True Inclusion - Guest Post by Daniel Giles
Thanks so much to Kathy Clubb for the opportunity to be a guest contributor on Light Up the Darkness. I am a young man living with Autism who is passionate about the full inclusion of people from all walks of life, including people with disability. And I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to live. In particular, I am very passionate about rights for unborn children with and without disability, as we all have value to contribute to society.
I am so grateful for many blessings in life, including:
- The opportunity to be educated at a regular school (I attended a special school early on in my life but transitioned to mainstream education through the support of my family, teaching staff and teacher aide. Am also passionate about enabling schools to become more inclusive environments for students with special needs)
- being able to live independently in my own unit
- being able to travel around independently using taxis and public transport as I’m not able to drive (I’m particularly passionate also about disability access to public transport as I believe this is still a big issue today)
- the opportunity to work in a mainstream environment
- the opportunity to be involved in my church community, at youth events and volunteer for a range of organisations.
I truly value all the above forms of inclusion and we as a society must continue to advocate for more of these. The disability community is also doing an amazing job at advocating for inclusion into mainstream society as much as possible. However, what about inclusion at the beginning of life (before we are born)?
As a society (especially here in Victoria and in many other jurisdictions), we deny children the opportunity to be born. We can assume that most disability groups would not be advocating for the approximately 90% of unborn children who are given a pre-natal diagnosis of Down Syndrome and are denied the opportunity to live (An article from NHS choices states that 92% of children who receive a pre-natal diagnosis of Down Syndrome are aborted. (See more here.)
I am blessed to know some amazing people with Down Syndrome who I admire for the way they give life their best shot and give so much to society. In fact, recently, I met a teenager with Down Syndrome who has an amazing faith, beautiful smile and appreciates the simple things in life. Yet sadly, many parents may only be told about the deficits of Down Syndrome by some in the medical profession instead of focussing also on the joys these kids can bring to society. This to me is the ultimate form of disability exclusion, the exclusion from life itself (more than exclusion from education, public transport, employment and so forth, areas I also advocate for).
I am concerned that the widespread pre-natal exclusion of people with Down Syndrome suggests that if pre-screening for autism becomes available, autistic pre-born babies with Autism could face similar rates of abortion as babies with Down Syndrome. I attended the Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Adelaide back in 2013 and the keynote speaker at the conference opening presented a discovery of Autism being detectable at one year of age or earlier once the genetic code is identified. I was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two and a half years and was blessed to be able to receive support early. So I recognise that while the early-diagnosis may assist in providing vital early supports for a child with Autism, it raises a couple of concerns:
- If future research leads to the discovery of Autism before birth, families may decide not to have a child with Autism. Organisations such as Autism Speaks in the USA are already searching for a ‘cure’ for Autism, so questions have to be asked as to whether their idea of a ‘cure’ could lead to the abortion of people with Autism if detectable before birth (The Autism Speaks goal of finding a cure for Autism was found in the mission statement next to page 1 on 2013 Annual Report)
- According to an article entitled Are we ready for a prenatal screening test for autism?, there appears to be a strong possibility of a pre-natal screening test for Autism. The below quote outlines the possible implications of what would occur if pre-natal testing for Autism existed:
- ‘A large percentage of parents would almost certainly use a prenatal autism test to make a decision on whether to terminate the pregnancy – if the statistics for Down’s syndrome since the introduction of prenatal screening are anything to go by’.
- • I am worried that this world could so easily miss out on the gifts and talents of people living with Autism.
- If infanticide becomes legalised, as currently being advocated for by Monash University Researchers, some families may only see the child’s deficits and decide not to keep the child if autism were to be detectable in one-year-old children. You can find this article here.
- On another note, we need to acknowledge and understand why parents may not choose to give birth to their children. I recognise also that being a male, I will never get to know the experience of an unplanned pregnancy. However, I know people who have had several abortions and one of these mothers is now joyfully raising her four-year-old child. You can read this mother’s story here.
- For anybody who has had an abortion, I want to reassure you that God loves you for who you are and that you do not need to be ashamed. There is always mercy and healing available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (if you’re Catholic) and God is always ready to forgive when you turn to Him.
Whether you’re facing a pregnancy challenge and don’t know what to do, or you’ve had an abortion, there is always help out there to assist you with exploring life-giving solutions for managing pregnancy challenges, dealing with the grief and loss associated with abortion or even to assist you with raising your child. Some services that exist to assist people in such situations in Victoria include:
Gianna Centre (based in Bendigo)
Tel: (03) 5442 4644 Mob: 0419 496 443
The Babes Project (based in various locations around Melbourne)
Tel: (03) 8719 0606 (Wed-Fri, 9am-3pm) Mob: 0423 053 096 (after hours)
The late Bishop Joe Grech used to say that “God does not make rubbish”. I often wonder then why we are treating unborn babies as children to be disposed of, instead of the children of God they were made to be. I imagine if the unborn children had a say in whether they are born or not, they’d all want the opportunity to live. By allowing all unborn babies the opportunity to live, we are promoting the true inclusion of all humanity.