As I was writing this, my daughter who is cognitively delayed, has a mild form of autism and emotional dysregulation, came in. She has a habit of interrupting me as I work. I reacted and spoke a little harshly, then I apologized and said, “Sorry I barked at you.” She laughed at my funny joke, “Bark, bark,” she walked away making dog sounds and not understanding my odd apology at all.
I have been frustrated at times with the lack of understanding among Catholic educators of the needs and concerns of parents with children who have disabilities. However, when I remember my own inability to communicate in a way my daughter understands, I am a little more sympathetic.
We are called to have an attitude of “Bring in here the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14: 21). The Church is working hard to look at the new issues educators are dealing with. We may have never considered some of these things before.
- Dietary issues. Many children these days have issues with gluten or wheat products. This can create a problem when it is time for Communion. These issues are being addressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This population of people can either receive low-gluten consecrated hosts, or receive just the Precious Blood to accommodate their dietary restrictions.
- Physical issues. In accordance with state and federal laws all churches and places where faith formation takes place should be able to physically accommodate wheelchairs, or any other form of physical assistance.
- Autism spectrum or non-verbal disorders. Many new programs are using a primarily visual learning style to help teach people who cannot learn through traditional methods.
There are wonderful sites that give web-seminars and information on teaching the special needs population:
• The National Catholic Partnership on Disability
• The Network for Inclusive Catholic Educators
There are also religious education programs designed for these children. For example, The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program-Religious Education for Children and Adults with Special Needs, by Grace Harding; and The St. Mary’s Curriculum for Autistic Children. If we are willing to research and invest a little time on our own education, we can better serve this very special group of children. God Bless.
The Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities (1978) states,
“It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to people 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. Accessibility involves far more than physical alterations to parish buildings. 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."
The U.S. bishops’ conference also provides information and guidelines for the instruction of persons with disabilities and for their participation in the liturgical life of the church in “Sharing the Light of Faith: National Catechetical Directory for Catholics of the United States.”