Parishioners with autistic children seek inclusive worship atmosphere
Published: April 16, 2004
BERTHA, Minn. (CNS) -- Most parents who bring their children to Mass can tell at least one story of when their child's behavior became disruptive: The baby suddenly cried inconsolably, the toddler threw a tantrum, the preschooler loudly insisted on a bathroom break or refused to leave her sister alone. For most parents, it is the story of an isolated incident or two. But for parents of autistic children, like John and Carol Race, their stories are of ongoing disruptive behavior by their children and of rejection and chastisement by those around them at Mass. Among the Races' five children is an autistic son. They are members of St. Joseph Parish in Bertha. One Saturday evening, they attended Mass in St. Paul at the Cathedral of St. Paul and received a negative reaction from a person seated nearby who asked them to move. At another parish, the pastor chastised Carol Race after Mass for her son's behavior. "People at first think it's a discipline problem and assume that a good spanking would clear everything up," she told the St. Cloud Visitor, newspaper of the St. Cloud Diocese. While a "good spanking" might be the worst treatment for a child with disruptive behavior, it is especially inappropriate for autistic children. Autism is a lifelong, complex condition in which a child has problems to varying degrees with language, socialization and learning.
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