Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Autism: Not The Musical

From ABC News and the Associated Press comes this report, that a Catholic priest in Minnesota has filed a court order against the parents of a severely autistic thirteen-year-old boy, to bar him from attending Sunday Mass. According to the report, Father Daniel Walz "alleges that Adam Race's unruly behavior endangers others who attend the Church."

(The Minneapolis-St Paul Star-Tribune has more.)

The parents at one point defied the order, citing discrimination. The mother was cited by police, and is expected to appear in court on June 2. In the meantime, if there are any parents of autistic children out there, or anyone who has experience in dealing with autism, mwbh would welcome your comments here.

After all, "such as these are the kingdom of heaven," right?


Dymphna said...

What is the poor priest to do? This is not a cute little 3 year old. This is a 200 plus pounder. If he hurst somebody the parish will get sued.

Bill Cork said...

Some points I've culled from various articles on this situation: This family attended this church for 12 years before this became an issue with the arrival of a new pastor. They knew he could be disruptive, so they sat in the cry room or in the back pew, and left early. The pastor visited, and accused them of not disciplining him. Ironically, this mother was honored by the diocese a couple of years ago specifically for her work in promoting the rights of people with autism, and for promoting their full inclusion in the life of the church.

Andrew Guidroz II said...

It must be difficult for both sides.

On occasion, we have mentally handicapped folks who come into the church on their own. One began wandering around through the pews a few weeks ago and got really close to a few folks before someone in the church convinced him to sit down. And he was a large man.

A 45 lb learning disable child is easier to handle than a 225 lb man as well.

And I can fully understand that church each week must add to a sense of normalcy for the family.

It would seem like the parish could have attempted to go to some extraordinary levels to help with this child but, from what I've read thus far, it's hard to get a clear view exactly what the parish has done.

It's one of those things where both sides lose.

Erin Manning said...

I understood from another website that the priest offered to do several things, including saying a Mass privately for the family, but none of that was acceptable to the family.

I also was alarmed by some of the details given in the articles: this boy has hit another child, pulled a girl onto his lap, spit and urinated in church, and twice has started cars in the parking lot! Even if this is "normal" autistic behavior, I do think the threat of harm to others has to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of an autistic child. My heart hurts so much for this family. They need the very graces that are present in the Mass, not restraining orders. My fear is that stories such as this one will lead to people paint all autistic children as dangerous and undesirable.

I always knew I could never handle a disabled child. Guess what God gave me? Being my son's mother has been the greatest blessing, but that realization took a while to come.

While my son is still young and, from what I gather, is not as severely impaired as the boy in this story, we still have to endure stares from people when he talks during Mass or makes a sound. Ironic, since we as Catholics are told that children are a blessing, yet folks can't seem to get over the fact that we bring these blessings to Mass and they aren't as quiet as adults. Autistic children appear "normal" and therefore don't get any understanding when they misbehave. They are simply viewed as rude and I'm the bad parent who can't control my child.

Autism is a "specturm" disorder. Not every child is affected in the same way. With one in 150 children in the United States being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, this is something the nation (and the Church) will have to address.

I encourage everyone to withhold judgment. Please visit the Autism Society of America's website and Autism Speaks to learn more about the disorder.

My son and others like him were created in God's image. Remember that.

Anonymous said...

Where is King Solomon when you need his advice? (In prayer somewhere, I'm sure.)
I would think that the family would defer to the priest's judgement - at least initially. It sounds like the priest is trying to accomodate the family and the rest of the parish. On the other hand, if the family feels they are being treated unfairly or unkindly , they should appeal to their bishop. Legal matters such as this are typically handled only after communicating with the bishop, but the bishop should be able to hear the situation from both sides directly.
Although I don't know any similar situations, it is likely that there are similar cases in other parishes - even in the same diocese. It would be worth asking the bishop and other priests. Also, sometimes a priest from another parish can help in a situation where the family and their pastor are not able to reach a solution.
For those who ask whether the priest is unkind, or ask "WWJD?" I think He would have cured the son to demonstrate the Glory of God, and He would have bid him go to the temple and make the appropriate offering. In our case, we must be the Body of Christ and do what we can to help this family. From a distance, we can pray for all those involved. Due to the nature of autism, it is unlikely that we would be able to help with the autistic child. However, those in the parish, might be able to help with the other children so that the parents can focus more attention on the autistic son and the Mass.

John C. Hathaway said...

As one follows these stories in the blogosphere, one gets new insights. If Red Cardigan is correct, then I've underestimated this priest, based upon my previous understanding of the case.

I have Asperger's, and the reaction on the Asperger's/Autism board I go to is actually in favor of the priest:
Autism does not excuse that kind of behavior, and it really does a disservice to the autistic community to make a "test case" out of this.

Also, I personally hate it when people make me go to places where I'm uncomfortable. Obviously, this kid is uncomfortable at Mass there, or uncomfortable with this priest, or something, and his parents are doing *him* a disservice by forcing him there.

It is a myth that autistic spectrum people don't recognize other people's emotions. More precisely, we get overwhelmed by them.

The more tense the relationship gets, the more agitated the autistic kid is gonna get.

Anonymous said...

I hate commenting on something when I don't know the facts, but I'd like an expert in autism to speak to whether this young man is not, perhaps, being over-stimulated at the public Mass.

I have a nephew who is autistic and is going through puberty, and this period has been very difficult for him. Prior to reaching puberty, he was pretty happy and well-adjusted, but after hitting puberty he became morose and withdrawn and sometimes violent with relatively little provocation.

If my child were having problems adjusting to the activity level at Mass and a priest offered to say a private Mass at my home, I would take him up on it. I would do it not only out of consideration for my fellow parishioners, but out of consideration for my child.

Anonymous said...

I have raised two autistic young men ages 16 and 19 (I am not the natural mother) for the last 9 1/2 years and I must agree with Mr. Hathaway.

He has hit the nail on the head with his observations of being "overwhelmed" by others emotions.

Originally I took the boys to an Ordinary Rite Mass which proved way too noisy and over-stimulating. The biggest problem seems to be over-stimulation. This is a problem not just in Church but in many other situations.

When I came to live with the boys their mother had walked out and the father was left with their care and their younger sister. The only support system he had was paid babysitters and two elderly parents that spoiled the children and made constant excuses for them. They were given everything they wanted and were never expected to behave.

Well, needless to say when I moved in there were many changes. I treated them as intelligent young people that had to go by the rules like everyone else in society.

I took away video games and tv and replaced it with educational computer lessons and dare I say, "BOOKS!"

I taught them how to care for themselves (hygiene), dress themselves, read and have manners. I taught them how to respect themselves and therefore others.

The biggest change I made (besides a strict schedule--which actually freed them from too many choices) was to bring them to a Traditional Latin Mass. Yes, Latin!! They loved it! The priest who is the pastor has a brother with Down's Syndrome so he was educated and empathetic.
The boys (now young men ) have not only attended the Mass for 8 years but also attend CCD at the traditional parish. I never thought they would EVER be able to attend CCD.

The teachers at the parish have been supportive and love them. I do not tolerate any rude behavior and they know that society works like this, "If you work hard and live right chances are you might get a reward. If you do not live right, it is guaranteed there are NO REWARDS."

It has not been easy. EVER. The most trouble has been with the Dad, the grandparents and relatives. I had to teach them how to act. The kids were alot easier than the so-called "normal" adults!

These young men have their "days" but the one thing they can count on is consistency in their daily schedule and lots of REAL love not pity. I give them respect and I expect the same in return.

I cannot judge what the parents of this young man have done with his care. I can only surmise because of the hundreds of parents with Autistic children that I have met in the last several years. I am asked to speak at different groups from time to time and I also work with autistic kids one on one. I do not make myself out to be a professional just someone who went with her "gut" when it came to raising kids.

P.S. They do understand the Latin Mass and LOVE it!

P.P.S. I do not have an natural children of mine own but I have three that the Lord gave to me. They love me the most out of their crazy family and are not afraid to say so!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is a test of Faith for the whole parish. This young man could be an angel delivered to them, creating the opportunity to bring the group closer together in loving and caring for this child of God.
(Hebrews 13:2)??