INCLUSION IN YOUR PARISH: TIPS TO PARENTS FROM A PARENT
- Introduce yourself and your child to the pastor before you attend, if possible. Ask if there are other children or adults with autism in the congregation. Explain what autism is, and your child’s limitations and potential. But first, let them know how important participation in a religious community is to your family, and that this is an area of concern for many families.
- Offer to help provide information, educational opportunities, or people who can assist religious educators to include your child. Professionals may be quite willing to give guidance to religious educators and to help figure out how to adapt a curriculum. There may be other ways that you as a parent can volunteer in the religious education program to help overall teaching and staffing resources. There are also on-line resources and materials. (SEE BELOW)
- Find a family oriented parish where a little noise is not uncommon.
- If your child is too young to pay attention to the service, bring books or other engaging toys to occupy the child.
- If the expectations are for children to sit for 45-60 minutes or more, make sure the child is able to do this at home first, or has an opportunity to practice.
- Figure out a way to come to the sanctuary with your child and go through the steps of the liturgy so it is familiar space. Practice can happen outside the Mass and at home. Video modeling, a video of what happens in it and what people do, can be a way of helping a child learn visually.
- Use concrete language and visual aides when instructing your child.
- Use a digital camera to make a picture book of the Mass and church, important parts of the liturgy key people, etc. You can use the pictures to help a child learn the names of the places, actions, and people. Practice at home; reward the child when he/she labels them in public.
- Find something in the liturgy that your child enjoys and can participate in and succeed at to make attending it fun for your child.
- Learn how to use a motivational system and then make it as discrete as possible.
There are already good resources available. They include:
- Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities. Barbara Newman. Friendship Ministries. www.friendship.org.
- Exceptional Teaching. Jim Pierson. Standard Publishing.
- A website, Community Connections, from the University of Maryland, with a section on Spiritual Connections with Tip Sheets for Clergy, Congregations, and Religious Educators. www.communityconnections.umd.edu.
- By Mary Beth Walsh and Bill Gaventa, Autism and Faith Task Force. A collaborative effort of COSAC of New Jersey and The Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities.