Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Do you want to play?

My youngest son, Joshua, has autism.  The kids and I were recently at a Christian social event with a lot of other children whom Joshua has never met before.  He was really wanting to play "ball" with the big kids, but I diverted him by seeing if he could play with an extra ball with children more his age.  He was happy to do so and went around and asked various kids "Do you want to play?"  I was quite proud of him for being so outgoing but was disheartened by the fact that child after child looked at him and said, "No".  They didn't know Joshua, or his struggles, and perhaps his forthrightness was unsettling to them.  I don't know for sure.  Joshua's older sister and a friend of Joshua's older brother did engage with him for as long as his attention span lasted, which was quite loving.

                                         Joshua announcing a Pine Wood Derby Race with the
                                         Parish Sponsored Boy Scout Troop.

I am of the belief that those in the Body of Christ will be more likely to live out their faith and teach their children likewise.  I also understand that some children can be painfully shy.  I have one of those as well.  Verses such as in James 1:27, " Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." seems relevant in such cases as reaching out to those with disabilities.  There are a lot of compassionate children Joshua has encountered who love him for who he is, like him and want to play with him. All the kids in his religious ed class have been nothing but understanding and kind to him as it was explained on the first day of class that Joshua has a disability and was learning at a different pace.

How has your special needs child been welcomed into your faith community?

What would need to change for you and your child to have the most positive experience?

However, as I reflected on this social interaction, at the social gathering, in light of considering the special needs population fitting in to social situations, especially in the Church, social skills, especially for those on the autism spectrum, are the most challenging to master.  I was reminded of what the Blessed Virgin Mary's response to the servants at the Wedding Feast at Cana, "Do whatever He tells you." in reference to her Son, Jesus.  As these verses came to me, I was also considering the conversation I had had with one of Joshua's therapists regarding the need, especially in the Church, for the Body of Christ to truly be supportive to parents and children who are struggling with special needs.  So many parents find "the looks" they get when their child misbehaves in Church, hard to deal with and end up no longer attending Church services and don't seek out religious instruction for their children. I can certainly relate to those feelings.  However, what does Christ "tell us" regarding the little children:   "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14.

What needs to happen in our mindset and in our faith communities to encourage this type of acceptance?

It takes a lot of energy for any parent of children to get to church on time and help their neurotypical child to learn proper social skills.  Those who take their children to Mass with them are faced with the challenge of simultaneously getting spiritually fed and taming their "Wild Things" in such a way so as not to disturb others.  What I have found to be helpful is trying to take my child to at least one daily Mass a week, which is shorter and where the kids can practice proper behavior with less distractions.  Joshua still manages to make things both entertaining and a blessed experience in his own way.  He looks forward to "The Sign of Peace", speaking of it before Mass, and then when it's time for the "Our Father" and then the "Sign of Peace", he's laying on the pew with a coat over his head refusing to shake anyone's hand.  My take on that is he had reached the saturation level at that point in the Mass with all the stimulus and practicing proper behavior.  He is making progress from when he used to lay under the pew and when he flipped down the waste band of his pants exposing himself during the Nicene Creed.  Now he says "I have to go potty." in a strong voice, stands for the Gospel and kneels during the Consecration.  I'm sure the Lord is chuckling over the antics kids do at Church and is so pleased by them attending, and that thought makes it easier for the days of struggle.

What we have found with our efforts working with Joshua at Mass is more supportive looks and smiles from those around us and that is nothing but encouraging.  I know that he, like all those in attendance, especially those with disabilities, not only deserve to be there, but NEED to be coming to church.  After all, we are ALL made in God's Divine Image and each one of us make up the Body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:21-26 speaks of how we are to regard one another, including those who don't seem to "fit in":
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
                                           Tony Melendez singing for Bl. Pope John Paul II

What goals do you have for you and your child with special needs in your faith community?

In what ways do you and your child need to be supported?

What can you do to make your goals a reality?

How do you envision your child's place in the Body of Christ?

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