“Withhold judgement, and at the very least, offer a smile.”
That’s the advice of Randa Habelrih, advocate for people with autism and their loved ones. She says that even with support, parenting a child with autism can be an intensely lonely experience, made worse by the snap judgements of others over challenging behaviour when in public.
Her son Richard, 21, is an advocate as well, presenting his first-hand experiences of autism to primary and senior students at Sydney schools to foster not only awareness, but acceptance and inclusion. A highlight on the Habelrih family’s calendar for the past couple of years has been the annual Mass and Blessing for People with Autism organised by the archdiocese’s Life, Marriage and Family Centre to coincide with National Autism Awareness month.
This year auxiliary Bishop Anthony Randazzo will celebrate the Mass on Sunday April 8 at 2pm at St Benedict’s Church, Broadway.
“I really love this Mass,” says Randa. “It allows our children to feel welcomed and celebrated. It also brings the families together and you feel a sense of belonging with other people who just understand what life is like with a child with autism.
“Otherwise, the challenges can be so difficult and hard to describe, that often you just act, you put a big smile on your face and just get on with it. Jesus asked the little children to come to him and even when our kids are adults they are still childlike in some ways. They are pure, they have beautiful souls and beautiful hearts and it’s nice the Church acknowledges them specifically. I really congratulate the archdiocese for it.”
Randa, her husband Elias and their children Emily and Richard are long-time parishioners at St Mary and Joseph, Maroubra and also attend St Michael’s Melkite Cathedral in Darlington.
“Richard loves going to Mass and he walks my mother into church and feels responsible for her. He now takes up the collection and feels a real sense of pride. It makes the whole experience more meaningful to him and it’s so important when the parish is accepting and welcoming of your child.”
To register for the Mass email [email protected]. Randa is also an organiser of two more events for people on the Autism spectrum and their families; Autism and Me which will be held at Randwick Town Hall on April 29, and Model MATES on May 12 2018 at Westfield Eastgardens.