Thursday, February 28, 2013

Religion and Autism

  One of the things we did for all of our children was to sign them up for religion on Sunday mornings. Each weekend, we would take the boys, drop them off at their respective classes for an hour, and then spend the day doing something fun together.
   While the other boys went off to their classes on their own, Mikey had a one-on-one teaching situation. He would willingly go each Sunday, and I would stay with him and his teacher while she went over his lesson with him. Now, I am not an over the top religious person, but I do believe in God, and I believe in tradition. I wanted my children to all know about their faith, receive their sacraments, and follow the same rituals that Mike and I did as children. Whatever they decided to do with this knowledge and foundation when they were older would be their choice, but for now, we believed that it was important for them to learn these things.
   Mikey actually enjoyed going each week, and loved to stop at the local donut shop for a treat along the way.By the time he reached second grade, he would be receiving his First Holy Communion, and I was a nervous wreck.He had aversions to certain foods, and I didn't think he would even put the host in his mouth. He might get upset too. Not wanting to  upset anyone else's special day with a possible outburst, I had asked the nun if we could possibly do ours privately. Since this is a special event in the Catholic religion, and represents joining the Catholic community,  she suggested we do it during a regular Sunday mass. This made me very uneasy, but unfortunately, the church still had much to learn about autism.
    We scheduled a date with the nun , and Mikey would receive Communion in June. As the day approached, we were nervous, but we wanted him to share  the same experiences as his brothers, so we made preparations. His suit was ready, the flower for his lapel had been ordered, and the camera was charged.
   When the day finally arrived, he was fully cooperative. He looked so handsome in his suit, I just wanted to kiss his cheeks all day. We arrived at church, sat in the quiet room right near the altar, and awaited the announcement that he would be receiving his sacrament that day. As the mass continued, I had a bad feeling. Nothing had been mentioned, I hadn't seen the nun, and we were getting near the end of mass. I figured it would happen during regular communion for the parish, however, it didn't. Before we knew it, mass had ended and they never mentioned Mikey once.
   Slightly irritated, and greatly disappointed, I approached the priest after mass. I asked what had happened, and he told me that the nun had never informed him about any of this. He could not apologize enough.He asked us to wait, and he would give Mikey communion after the parishioners had left. Unfortunately, Mikey would not eat the host. He kept his lips closed tightly,and would not do it. The priest suggested a sip of the wine instead. While I wasn't too keen on this idea,  Mikey did love  grape juice, so I figured a sip would not hurt. Unfortunately, at that point in time, he would only drink from a straw. I happened to have one with me, and the priest said we could use it. Mikey appeared cautious, and the wine made it almost all of the way up to his  lips, but not quite there. That was as far as we got. The priest told us that unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to sign his certificate if he hadn't had either a tiny piece of the host or a sip of the wine.
   We left the church with our handsome little boy, and  felt deflated to say the least. What was supposed to be a special day for him fell short. I was very upset with the parish and their lack of understanding about autism. I was annoyed at the nun for screwing up the entire thing. I just wanted him to receive once,just once, but it was not meant to be at that time.
   I later found out that other parishes were allowing children with autism to bring in a piece of whatever food they enjoyed, be it a piece of pizza crust or an m&m , and they blessed  it and allowed them to receive. I am still hopeful that at some point soon, we will reach this milestone, but for now, we wait. It is also my hope that more churches will come to understand the difficulties children with autism have with food, and find another way to bless their sweet souls.As for us, we were batting 1,000 in our family when it came to Communions.

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