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Can My Autistic Child Receive The Sacraments?

Can a child with autism receive the sacraments? The short answer is yes- definitely! In fact you can substitute almost any disability for autistic and the answer is still yes. Unfortunately, many parents are told otherwise by their parish's priest and/or DRE. These parishes either don’t know how to integrate a child into an existing religious education program, or don’t want to try. Some pastors mean well, but just aren't sure what to do.

If you have an autistic, or an intellectually delayed child, and your not getting any clear answers from your parish, here’s some suggestions for how to proceed:

First, don’t wait until your child needs a sacrament. Baptism won’t be an issue, but most problems arise around the time a child is preparing for their first Reconciliation, Holy Communion or Confirmation. Work on building up a rapport and relationship with your parish priest and director of religious education as far in advance as possible. It's not a good idea to spring your child's unique needs on them the fall before a sacrament.

Be sure to check your parish website to see if there’s someone in particular you need to speak to about making accommodations to your child's religious education program. You can also check your diocesan website to see if there’s resources shared there, or if there's someone you can get in touch with who can provide you, or your parish, with assistance. Check under the Catechesis or Family Life tab if there isn't a specific disability ministry section.

If you’re not sure how to approach people and advocate for your child’s needs, check out our free advocacy guide. It provides advice and templates on how to approach your pastor, your DRE, and how to interact with parishioners. Click the image to learn more and download your own copy.

It also will give you a brief intro on what the church teaches about the celebration and the reception of the sacraments for persons with disabilities - arm yourself with knowledge! Did you know the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, has written:

It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together. To exclude members of the parish from these celebrations of the life of the Church, even by passive omission, is to deny the reality of that community. Accessibility involves far more than physical alterations to parish buildings. Realistic provision must be made for Catholics with disabilities to participate fully in the Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations.1

The Church teaches that it’s better to err on the side of giving a sacrament to a child, than withholding it.

But don’t worry, even if information is hard to come by at your parish or in your diocese, there’s lots of great information out there. Check out our suggestions below for help with educating your parish leaders on how to formulate a plan to prepare your child to receive the sacraments. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel!