Helping Autistics Participate in the Liturgy

Helping Autistics Participate in the Liturgy April 24, 2020

Boy holding candle
Boy holding candle (CC0 Malcolm Lightbody, Unsplash)

As I have noted several times before in this column, autistic individuals often have some difficulty participating in the liturgy. I think we can help autistics participate and live the liturgy. Recently, PrayTellBlog got in touch with me and asked me a few questions on autistic participation in the liturgy. They sent me some questions and I typed them up some answers. The published this interview late yesterday.

April is Autism Awareness month. Eugenic ideologies have reared their ugly head again amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, making plain many societies’ utilitarian ethics. I cannot think of a better time to be mindful of those among us who have to fear for their lives simply because they are different. Here, I interview Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC, an autistic priest, about autism, prayer and the liturgy in the hopes that we may take a small step toward becoming more inclusive of those that societies so readily discard when our churches reopen. […]

Liturgies are often celebrated in ways that aim to stimulate the senses. What are some immediate ways that churches can better accommodate those with sensory processing differences, which is one of the more commonly shared effects of autism, be it hypo or hypersensitive senses?

For those on the hyposensitive end, I don’t think much needs to be done besides accommodating if they are swaying back and forth at the back or need a weighted blanket over them during Mass. Hyposensitivity can usually be resolved by the person adding more sensory input and most can learn ways to do so that are minimally disruptive like what I mentioned.

Hypersensitivity is a little more complicated as you need to lower the lights, turn down the microphones, avoid incense, avoid florescent lights (since these appear like strobe lights to many on the spectrum), etc. A number of places around the country have done a sensory friendly Mass of this style. Another aspect often in such Masses is that they use the same songs each week to help with autistics’ executive function difficulties and preference for sameness.

This is just the intro and part of one response. There is far more on their site and I highly recommend you check it out if interested in the topic.

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