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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

International Conference on autism: three days to inspire hope

Vatican City, 18 November 2014 (VIS) – This morning a press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the 29th International Conference organised by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, on the theme “The person with autism spectrum disorders: animating hope”, which will take place in the Vatican from 20 to 22 November.

The speakers were Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care); Msgr. Jean-Marie Mate Musivi Mupendawatu and Fr. Augusto Chendi, M.I., respectively secretary and under-secretary of the same dicastery; and Stefano Vicari, head of the Department of Child Neuropsychiatry at the Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital, Rome.

Archbishop Zimowski explained that the term “autism” was first used by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 to describe the introversion of schizophrenic patients. Subsequently, in 1943, his colleague Leo Kanner described the disorder for the first time, affirming that autistic children were born with a congenital incapacity to establish normal contact with other people. It is currently defined as a “neuro-behavioural disturbance (also known as Kanner's Syndrome) of a pervasive type”, of multifactorial origin. In general, autism spectrum disorders manifest themselves before the age of three, and are life-long. The most recent statistics confirm that around 1% of children worldwide are affected.

“The many difficulties, including those of an ethical, moral and spiritual nature, faced by those with autism spectrum disorders and their carers have led us to choose such an important, difficult and delicate theme for this conference”, the prelate explained. “It will be a special occasion for observing the advances that have been made in research and treatment, as well as legal and political-administrative aspects; three valuable days for listening and exchanging experiences, and learning from the world's most qualified specialists.”

The Conference will be attended by more than 650 people from 57 different countries, and will include an encounter with the Holy Father during the Wednesday general audience, as well as an exhibition of paintings by the Taiwanese autistic artist Leland Lee, a moment of prayer and testimonies from people affected by autism spectrum disorders, their families, and associations. Various famous Italian singers will offer a musical contribution.

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