We baptized our children shortly after they were born. During each baptismal ceremony the Church affirmed the dignity of our child being baptized and we the parents and the Godparents were reminded of the lifetime duty to the child. Recently, we were in an odd way reminded of the baptism of our third child, our daughter Danielle, as we petitioned the court to become her legal guardian. This was necessary due to her diagnosis of autism. Danielle’s dignity was acknowledged and protected by society’s representative, a judge. She examined the documents provided by trusted physicians. Our intentions, our ability and our dedication as her parents were first evaluated and scrutinized and then validated and affirmed. This court appearance presided over not by a priest, but by the equivalent of a “secular clergy” — the judge — marked a particularly solemn reality for us as Danielle requires life long care and supervision.
Although it was not required for Danielle to attend the hearing, we brought her anyway. We knew there would be value in her presence there. With prompting and the use of her augmentative machine, she was able to greet the Judge and in a very limited way respond to certain questions that were asked of her. The Judge thanked us for bringing Danielle to the hearing because it provided her with clarity to make her ruling. It also allowed her to see that a non-verbal person with a disability like autism can still participate in an authentic way. For those 40 minutes in the court room, Danielle was viewed as an individual who had something worthwhile to offer to the proceeding.
As her parents we felt sad about having to seek guardianship for our adult daughter. It is only natural for parents to envision their child as an independent adult able to care for themselves. We also felt that we were stripping her of her rights, but in actuality we realized that we were protecting and guarding her rights: her rights to be cared for with dignity and to be protected and assisted in making her financial, legal and medical decisions.
Guardian Angels oversee newly baptized souls and as legal guardians we ask those wise and vigilant angels to remain on watch and give us the strength and wisdom to guard Danielle to the best of our ability.
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).