A parent takes her autistic son to Mass

If I had written this several years ago, our story would be very different. My son is a preteen with autism. He cannot talk, has trouble understanding and behaves very differently than others his age. Loud noises and crowds are very upsetting to him, so going places is a challenge. We took him to church when he was small, but his differences became more apparent as he got older. Although he tried his best, he could not tolerate an hour long Mass or loud music. It was stressful for him (and us) and we were clearly disturbing others. Not wanting to be a disruption, we stopped taking him to church and began to attend Masses separately.

His disability also prevented him from attending CCD. In trying to find a way for him to receive Communion, I was referred to Sister Bonnie McMenamin at the Diocese’s Office of Ministry With the Deaf/Persons with Disabilities. Before I made the call, I prepared for the possibility that he would not be able to make the sacraments.

I was wrong. Sister Bonnie completely understood our situation, and assured me that Communion and confirmation were possible. She also told me about special Masses in the Diocese of Camden tailored to individuals with special needs. As she said, “There is room at God’s table for everyone; sometimes you just have to move a few chairs.”

We have been attending the monthly inclusion Mass at the Church of the Holy Family in Sewell for over two years now. It is the only time the entire family can attend church. The Mass is shorter, with simpler language and soft music. It has been a great success for my son. He seems to enjoy going and has received first Communion. Father Robert Hughes and Father Sanjai Devis have been very welcoming, as has the parish community.

Autism is a constant challenge for the person affected by it and their family. It dictates every aspect of daily life. Autism can also be quite isolating, because things like going to the grocery store, a restaurant or on a family outing are difficult, or even impossible. It’s difficult for others to understand; sometimes one’s immediate family doesn’t fully grasp it. I’m not sharing this to generate pity, but rather to emphasize how wonderful it is to be able to take your child someplace where he or she is accepted without question.

That is exactly what the Masses of welcome and inclusion offers to families — the chance to worship and be part of a faith community without stress or worry. Your child is accepted regardless of how different they might seem or how oddly they behave.

I remember being very nervous the first time we went to Mass at Holy Family. I had no idea how it would go, how my son would act or how the parishioners would respond to us. Sister Bonnie sensed my anxiety and reassured me that everything would be fine. She was absolutely right.


The writer asked not to be identified.

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