Francis to meet with Catholics on the autism spectrum

Francis to meet with Catholics on the autism spectrum November 18, 2014

Rather than seeing their Church as a refuge where they can meet God, parents of kids with autism often report that their children are more isolated than ever at Mass — either because other parishioners disapprove of their behavior, mistaking it for irreverence or a lack of discipline, or because the liturgy itself provides a sensory overload that is too much to bear, or because sitting quietly and listening is not always possible.

If you have a family member with autism, or if you are on the spectrum yourself, what would you say to the Pope? What would you like your fellow Catholics to know about what it’s like to a member of the Body of Christ who is on the autism spectrum — either while you’re at Mass or other church functions, or just in general?

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  • TheReluctantWidow

    I don’t know exactly what I would say to Pope Francis other than to encourage him to bring to the fore of the minds of the faithful that all are worthy and deserving of receiving the graces given in attending Mass. Everyone no matter how they arrive there, how they are dressed, or how short their attention span might be.

    I do not have a child on the spectrum but I do have several children who have sensory processing difficulties. One son is triggered when places he is used to are suddenly different, like church at Christmas and Easter. It’s visually just too much and for whatever reason he is super-sensitive to strong smells so incense during high holy days are “woah!!” When they were younger I remember feeling so overwhelmed and worried because of people who would scowl at me and “tsk-tsk” that I couldn’t properly discipline my children. It was to the point that my husband and I would split Masses and go separately so we could keep the “difficult” children at home. However, we finally got over that nonsense when realized, “Hey! Our kids need these graces.” Here in recent months it’s been difficult to get to Mass every week because one or the other of my kids will meltdown in a rage about “getting dressed,” and I no longer have my husband to scoop them up and place them in the car. so this weekend I said, “OK. Go to Mass in your pajamas. I don’t care. We are going to Mass, we are going every Sunday, and I don’t care what you wear.” Let that little old lady who sits in the same place every week judge me. I don’t care anymore. We showed up and Jesus is happy to see us.

  • Kate

    My husband and I are thrilled about Pope Francis, although I suspect he’s already met people on the autism spectrum without realizing it. We’ve been fortunate that the two parishes our family’s been part of have been really supportive and helpful. I currently go with my son to his faith formation classes. He’s with his same age and grade peers, but his understanding is much more concrete and I’ve never realized how abstract religion and faith can be. We go to Mass regularly, he’s a pro at confession (he even knows Father’s lines as well as his own), but for sensory reasons does not receive communion, although he’s made his first communion and understands that communion is Jesus. He just cannot be reverent because it feels or tastes funny, and he actually says no when we ask if he wants to receive communion. He actually made his first communion because Father felt he understood the sacraments as well as those in his peer group. It’s hard going to Mass or participating actively in parish life, because most events are overwhelming and overstimulating. Masses on the holiest of holy days are typically the hardest because churches are most crowded, people are much less understanding and tolerant. There are other parents who have struggled with people telling them off for their parenting when their usually older child acts up even in the most understanding of parishes. We’ve had our share of getting the stink eye or been at the tough end of comments. For the first time this year, I’ve seen autism get addressed during respect life month in our pastor’s column in the bulletin. It’s a ‘frigerator paper at our house. I wouldn’t have much to say to the Holy Father because like his predecessor Benedict, they get people with disabilities of all kinds, not just those you can see. It’s more about our fellow parishioners and other Catholics at large who need to be understanding. For most of our children and adults with autism, it’s not visible. Behaviors can come without warning. Part of dealing with this and other issues could be handled if we didn’t just go to Mass but spent some time learning about those we sing, pray and eat with as well. Just some thoughts.

  • 12anon

    Mine isn’t about Mass, but a general comment as a result of living with a violent autistic sibling…I wish that I’d been told I didn’t have to be “happy” to have that sibling, because unlike many Down’s siblings, I didn’t, and still don’t, see my sibling as some kind of pure shining light of God’s love (quite the opposite). Just because I’m pro-life doesn’t mean I have to lie to myself or others about JUST HOW FREAKING HARD it is to live with someone like that.