The year was 2002, we campaigned long and hard on autism and there was a huge need to raise awareness of autism. It was such a struggle to access public services. We did it for love and not for the money after our precious son was diagnosed with autism. Parents, carers and people with autism were finding life very difficult without public services – so my wife and I set about persuading partners to come on board with a small acorn of an idea hatched in our front room in Essex, in the United Kingdom. It grew into something big – we initiated 2002 as Autism Awareness Year – this was the first ever occasion of partnership working on autism in the UK, on such a large scale – all of it was for the good of parents, carers and people with autism in the United Kingdom – the idea was freely given in order to help others. Over 800 UK organisations came on board as partners of the year. The inspiration behind all of this was our precious son, we thank God for his life and we know that Jesus loves him.
Parliamentary debates were held in the Scottish Parliament, in the House of Commons and in the House of Lord in the Palace of Westminster in 2002 Autism Awareness Year.
The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair became the first ever Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom to mention the word autism. in the House of Commons in the British Parliament and to back and support the year. Prime Minister Tony Blair personally answered a question on Autism Awareness Year at Prime Minister’s Questions, in the chamber of the House of Commons, on the 9th of January 2002.
“Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the success of the British Institute for Brain Injured Children, the Disabilities Trust and my constituents, Ivan and Charika Corea, in getting 2002 declared as autism awareness year? Will he ensure that the national and local bodies that are responsible for health, social services and education co-operate in the joined-up provision of services that autistic people and their families desperately need? “
“Yes, I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents and the organisations concerned. Autism awareness year should give us the opportunity to raise the awareness of this condition, which is very debilitating and is distressing for families; in addition, it should ensure that we can learn more about what causes autism. She will be pleased to know that, in addition to the measures being taken by the voluntary sector, the Government are putting more resources and research into exactly how autism occurs and how we should deal with it. “
We also felt there was a need for the faith community to engage with parents, carers and the autism community, to reach out in love in the name of Jesus. We launched the International Day of Prayer for Autism also known as Autism Sunday in 2002 during Autism Awareness Year. This was the first ever international event on autism. It was amazing, God opened unexpected doors and showed favour as this was for ‘the least of these’ in His name. I remember walking into a restaurant with work colleagues a few months before and saw the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres having lunch with the famed BBC TV Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman. That prompted us to write to the Bishop of London. He wrote back personally supporting the whole idea of Autism Sunday and we asked if there could be an event at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It turned out that the Bishop of London, Rt.Rev.Richard Chartres had been involved with a charity dealing with autism – what a divine connection!
The Cathedral administrators got in touch with us and it was on. God just opened door after door of favour, the British press, radio and television heralded Autism Sunday, giving it wide coverage with television crews outside the Cathedral and televising clips for the evening news, across the nation. Bill Turnbull of BBC TV News had a special news item giving an opportunity for us to invite people to the service. The ‘Thunderer,’ the London Times published the news on their Royal & Court Page.
St. Paul’s Cathedral showed tremendous compassion to the vulnerable, by opening the Cathedral doors for the first time, to parents, carers and people with autism – 600 people turned up for the service. The Canon who took the service made a special reference to Autism Sunday and welcomed everyone. It was a beautiful moment ,celebrating the lives of all people with autism, their parents and carers. There was total freedom inside the Cathedral – children with autism were walking up and down – that’s what Jesus would have done. As the choristers walked down in procession a little boy with autism shouted out: ‘thank you.’ People were moved by the service and the compassion extended to the vulnerable by St. Paul’s Cathedral.
This acorn of an idea spread purely by word of mouth, without a penny being spent on expensive public relations and marketing campaigns and it is now a global event -the oldest global event, celebrating the lives of people with autism. Every life is precious and has worth and value in the sight of God. This was a celebration of life and rightly so.
Parliamentary debates in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords in 2002 Autism Awareness Year:
Prime Minister Tony Blair supports 2002 Autism Awareness Year at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 9th January 2002:
The Scottish Parliament debate heralding Autism Awareness Year on 6th December 2001:
Photographs of St.Paul’s Cathedral courtesy of Wikipedia