Pope Francis comments on kids with autism, get mixed responses from parents
Last Monday, Pope Francis addressed children with autism and their parents at an event in Vatican. While speaking to them, he said children under autism spectrum are like flowers. The Roman Catholic Church head did mean this in a positive light. Parents and experts from disability groups are pointing out why religious leaders, irrespective of what religion they represent, must address kids with disabilities as humans instead of comparing them to objects.
On 21 September, while meeting and greeting a group of kids under the autism spectrum, Pope Francis told them that they are unique, beautiful flowers in the eyes of God. Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church undoubtedly meant the statement in a positive light. But parents point out how comparing their children under the spectrum with objects is pointless. Children, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, must be treated and addressed just like any other human being.
The statement made by Pope Francis
Pope Francis made the statement last Monday while welcoming a group of children with autism and their parents to Vatican from Ambulatorium Sonnenschein in St. Pölten, Austria.
God created the world with a variety of flowers with all kinds of colors. Each flower has its own beauty and they are unique. Each one of us is beautiful in the eyes of God and he loves us. This makes us feel the need to say to God, thank you- Pope Francis.
The Catholic Church head has previously met children under the spectrum in the year 2014 as well. At that time, he had spoken about the importance of breaking stigma related to autism and the support that can be lend to kids with developmental disabilities.
Someone who loves children and never misses a chance to show his adoration to them, the statement from Pope Francis cannot be misconstrued.
But what irks parents and experts from the disability space is how children are related to objects by religious leaders, regardless of the community or religion they represent.
Anita Pradeep has a son Brian Pradeep with autism. She says, “With all due respect to Pope Francis, I believe that he has told the statement in a positive manner. It means how everyone must accept a child with autism just like how they accept any other child because eventually it is about inclusion. But why compare our children with flowers or bees or anything else? Can’t children just be children? Why give them names like ‘divyaang’ and so on? A child with autism has rights just like any other person. All that they need is some extra support and care. Our kids are pure souls”.
Seema Lal, co-founder of parent support group TogetherWeCan agrees to the same. “Pope Francis has a huge influence on people. His larger message was that of acceptance of diversity and uniqueness which is indeed great. What I do not understand is calling children with disabilities flowers! They are humans just like all of us. No mother has ever given birth to a flower. Tags like differently abled, divyaang and angels are just unnecessary. We call them everything except humans! When you take away that part, you are denying them rights and bringing a charity perspective to it”, says Seema.
Sangeetha John, whose daughter Sherin Mary is under the spectrum says, “I clearly do not want to point out any religion. According to our Indian tradition, we take in all the positives from people and ignore the negatives. I would like to do the same in the case of Pope Francis’ statement too because he has spoken about it in a positive way”.
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