According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 children in the United States suffers from some type of developmental disability, whether physical, intellectual or other. For most families, the challenges associated with these disabilities are great, and parents assume the often lifelong role of primary caretaker for their children well beyond childhood years. Their sacrifices are many, and it’s a role that cannot be understated in terms of difficulty or significance.
Recently, OSV Newsweekly ran an article highlighting the mounting concerns facing the aging parents of these children. Many are concerned about what will happen to their children when they, their primary caretakers, have passed away. While it outlined the struggles, the article was hopeful in that it highlighted many Church-based grassroots efforts that are making headway on this topic. The Knights of Columbus have been active, as has Catholic Charities. Individuals, too, have been empowered, such as the mother of one child with autism. She admitted she had neither money, connections nor experience — only “a mother’s heart for my son.” As she successfully opened a home for eight young men with disabilities in Pennsylvania last year, it seems that her mother’s heart was enough.
The lifelong care for those with developmental disabilities is an issue that isn’t talked about
This Editorial Board wanted to highlight this important subject for three reasons. First, the lifelong care for those with developmental disabilities is an issue that isn’t talked about enough. Most families quietly go about their daily lives, attending to a thousand small tasks at-hand, taking the challenges one day at a time. Often money is an issue. The heroes of these stories are the parents who have worked tirelessly to see that the lives of their disabled children are lived to the fullest and with the utmost dignity. Many chose to bring children in utero to term, even after they knew the extent of their child’s disability. These parents and other caretakers should be supported in every way possible, with our resources, time, energy and prayers.
Second, we are reminded that caring for those with disabilities, and for their caretakers, is a pro-life issue — one that clearly reflects the Church’s teaching on the sacredness and dignity of every human person. Too often, those with disabilities become casualties of what Pope Francis likes to call the “throwaway culture.” They become cast aside, regarded as “other” and compartmentalized as what should be the objects of someone else’s concern. We are called to do more. We — dioceses, parishes and individuals — are called to go to the peripheries and stand up for the sacredness of each of these persons the same way that we are called to protect those in the womb or those who are aging. By demonstrating a consistent support for life at all ages and in all stages, the Church’s collective pro-life witness is strengthened.
Finally, we would be remiss if we focused only on the challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities. These families likely would be the first to attest to the great joy that is infused into their lives by these children of God. Many families have expressed awe at the selflessness, the humility, the humor and the grace that their disabled children bring to family life. Despite daily struggles, many report having grown stronger in faith by caring for and loving those with disabilities, and by being loved in return.
Pope Francis constantly challenges each of us to find the peripheries in our own communities. Being part of a support system for someone with disabilities or for their caretakers is a simple, concrete and beneficial way to live out this call.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor