Magazine article Momentum

Including Those without Voices

Magazine article Momentum

Including Those without Voices

Article excerpt

There has been a marked increase in the number of children and adolescents with autism in the United States. Many of these children are Catholic, but many of their families have been turned away or alienated from the church because of inconsistencies in pastoral practices.

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. " Then he embraced them, and blessed them, placing his hands on them. (Mk 10:13-16)

In a March 2004 article published in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, I asked for prayers for the soul of an autistic child who died as a result of apparent fear and ignorance. I asked for prayers so that no other Christian would feel so scared as to be compelled to participate in any action that might result in the end of a life rather than in the improvement of a life.

There are more than 74, 000 autistic children in Pennsylvania, many of whom attend Mass; I know because I see them and I work with them and their families. Many families are scared and angry and hurt. They are scared that their son or daughter may suffer what an 8-year-old autistic boy from Milwaukee suffered three years ago when a well-meaning Christian community attempted to remove the "evil spirits" from the child by the laying of hands on him, inadvertently suffocating him.

One of the Pennsylvania children I know is Josh, a 7-year-old boy with autism. Until four years ago, he had difficulties talking and, it seems, in understanding speech; he also was shy. When he was excited (happy, sad or frustrated) he would "stim"-flap his hands, not sit still in the pew and periodically make odd noises. In church, he loved how the sun shined through the stained glass windows and, while staring at the windows, he would often stim on mornings when the sun was bright.

Josh's dad once talked about leaving the church because of his struggles with a pastor who didn't seem to understand his son and a congregation who seemed to react to every sound or movement Josh made during Mass. As a result Josh and his family stopped attending Mass on Sundays and for all intents his parents stopped receiving the sacraments.

Over the past decade there has been a marked increase in the number of children and adolescents with autism in the United States. Some estimates suggest that the number now may be one in 150 children. Many of these children are Catholic, but many of their families, as was the case with Josh's, have been turned away or alienated from the church because of inconsistencies in pastoral practices, despite the lead of the U.S. bishops since November 1978 in working for a broader integration of persons with disabilities into the full life of our church:

It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together. To exclude members of the parish from these celebrations of the life of the church, even by passive omission, is to deny the reality of that community.... Realistic provision must be made for persons with disabilities to participate fully in the Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations such as the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation, and anointing of the sick (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, November 1978; revised 1989).

The challenge now, however, is to implement and practice these recommendations. Our Lady of Grace Parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh initiated a sacramental preparation program to prepare children and adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder for Eucharist, reconciliation and confirmation during the 2006-2007 academic year. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.