I’ve written briefly about autism and religion in No wheelchairs in heaven? What about autism? Recently, I’ve been giving a bit more thought to the subject. The discussion that follows is primarily from a Christian perspective, mainly because that’s the one I’m most familiar with, but I believe the basic concepts transcend any particular faith or denomination.
One of the many things that all parents must think about is what – and how – to teach their kids about religious and spiritual matters and how important religious practice will be to the family in day-to-day life. This is no less an important matter for parents with autistic children, though the approach and expectations of parents may need to be adjusted to suit the needs of the child.
Many blogs by parents of autistic children discuss the importance of religious faith in their lives and how it helps their family find needed strength and understanding. Some of these also discuss questions of accomodation and acceptance within their church, with varying degrees of success. It is along these lines that the story of Matthew, a 10-year old autistic boy in Phoenix whose family is in a dispute with the Catholic Church over accomodations for Communion, has been told in various news stories.
A quick summary of the situation:
The Catholic Church has told the parents of a 10-year-old autistic boy that, because the child cannot consume the host, he is not receiving Communion properly. Until he does, church officials say, he cannot partake of the church’s most meaningful sacrament.
According to a letter from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, delivered to the Lake Havasu City family on Feb. 12, the boy cannot accept Communion in the Catholic Church until he can “actually receive the Eucharist, actually take and eat.”
Beyond the practices of specific denominations, or individual congregations, this situation raises the even more important question to parents: “What does God (in this case, the Catholic version) think about this boy who is unable to physically accept the Eucharist?” There are several articles and blogs that address this question from a theological standpoint, so I’m not going to go into any detail here (see the list of various news stories linked to above.) But it is a question that believers of all faiths and denominations must grapple with.
In Matthew’s story, the boy’s father has the following to say:
“I took my son to CCD (religious education) classes for two years to prepare him,” said Moran, a stay-at-home father. “He deserves it.”
Moran also said his son realizes that he is doing something special. When he was not allowed to go to Communion on Feb. 26, “it was terrible,” said Matthew’s mother. “Matt screamed and cried because he did not get his Communion.”
This intrigued me on many levels. First, these are assumptions by the father on why his son was upset about being denied communion. The father assumed it was because his son was upset that his ability to accept the Eucharist would affect his relationship with God. Perhaps, though, Matthew’s reaction was based not on the content of the situation but the context: his well established routine had been violated. And we all know that (warning: gross generalization ahead) autistics don’t like their routines messed with.
Can autistic kids, in general, have true religious beliefs, true faith? Do they understand the meaning of, for instance, the death and resurrection of Jesus? Just because they can learn and participate in the rituals, does that mean they get the abstract meaning, the reading between the lines? (To be honest, this is a question I wonder about with NT kids as well.)
As parents, I think we all have an idea of what God thinks about our autistic children. I guess the question I’m asking is: What do our autistic children think about God?