Autism and Faith: Animating Hope
Sunday, November 5, 2017
This panel accompanies the mainstage production of Uncommon Sense, focusing on inclusion, compassion, neurodiversity and the role of faith among Christianity, the Catholic Church, and the autism community.
Participants: Janice Benton, Executive Director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability; Dr. Mary Beth Walsh, Board Member of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment; Louis Henry Mitchell, Creative Director of Character Design of Sesame Workshop;
About the Participants
Janice L. Benton, Executive Director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), guides initiatives which promote participation of persons with disabilities in the Catholic Church. She speaks throughout the U.S, and as a guest on Catholic radio. She consults with the U.S. Catholic bishops on life and disability issues, and spoke at the 2014 Vatican international symposium on autism and in 2016 presented two posters at the Vatican-sponsored Living Fully 2016 conference. In 2012, Janice received national awards from the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors and the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, USA. She is a professed Secular Franciscan, wife and mother of two adult children.
As Creative Director of Character Design at Sesame Workshop, Louis Henry Mitchell directs and oversees all aspects of character art for Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind Sesame Street. In his 17 years at Sesame Workshop, Mitchell has designed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons and directed Sesame Street Muppet photo shoots. Prior to holding this position, Mitchell freelanced for the organization since 1992. He uses drawing, painting, and sculpting in his work, and creates and art directs in traditional and digital media. Mitchell attended The School of Visual Arts, and The Art Students League. Mitchell resides in Rego Park, Queens, with his wife Yvonne.
Mary Beth (MB) Walsh is the mother of an older teenager significantly affected by autism, and a typically developing college student. She is an alumna of Haverford College (B.A.), the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (M.A.), and Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (M.Phil. Ph.D.). She currently works as a peer counselor with MOM2MOM, New Jersey based, peer-support help-line for mothers of individuals with special needs offered by Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. Much of her advocacy work for individuals with autism has focused on inclusion in faith communities. For two years she served as Co-Chair of the Autism Task Force of the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities, and continues to serve on the Executive Advisory Board for the Office of Pastoral Ministries with Persons with Disabilities of the Archdiocese of Newark. Walsh is co-editor of the resource Journey into Community: Including Individuals with Autism in Faith Communities, published by the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities. Her article Autism Culture, Church: From Disruption to Hope was recently published in Disability & Religion (2016). Walsh’s advocacy also focuses on the right of individuals with autism to evidence-based interventions. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). She is the author of the article The Top Ten Reasons the Child with Autism Deserves ABA. (Behavior Analysis in Practice: 2011)