Special needs inclusion is a passion for today’s guest blogger, Karen Jackson. She’s the director of the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In this post, she shares the joy she experienced when her daughter Samantha, who lives with autism, participated in confirmation at their church.
The Joy of Special Needs Inclusion
As the director of Faith Inclusion Network and parish advocate for persons with disabilities at Blessed Sacrament Church, I felt a strong obligation to ensure that my daughter participated in the rite of Confirmation. After all, my thoughts chided me, if I could not help make this happen with the advocacy experience I have attained in the past several years, then who could?
I shared my concern with Anne Masters, a guest speaker at a recent FIN event. “What if Samantha refuses to go up front? What if, for some reason I can’t determine, she gets upset and we have to leave? What if…What if….What if?”
But even as Anne assured me that everything would be okay, another answer came to me. It was not about what I had done or not done to help prepare Samantha for this sacrament and it wasn’t for me to worry about. The Holy Spirit would be with us. Her participation in the mass was about Samantha and our almighty and loving God.
So I prayed for God to ease my anxiety and on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon in April we made our way to Holy Trinity Church to participate in the mass. When we arrived, a full 30 minutes early as instructed, I tried to remain calm. All the students and their sponsors were directed to the pastoral center to get ready to line up and receive last minute instructions.
“Oh no”, I thought. “We have never been in this building.” In preparation, I had brought Samantha to visit the chapel several times, but we had never been across the street. But Samantha held my hand and bravely went into this new site with no problem at all, though she is usually very anxious in new places.
Samantha’s sponsor, Jackie, had not arrived yet but her catechist, Derek greeted Samantha and I with big hugs and words of encouragement. We were also warmly greeted by Sr. Regina, which made it seem we had come full circle, since she was the religious education director and the first person we met at Blessed Sacrament those many years ago. St. Regina would later hug me in the church and comment, “We did it!”
Jackie arrived just in time for a quick photo and to line up. We decided that, although parents did not usually accompany the students and sponsors into the church, that Samantha would be more comfortable with me there. And so we all walked out of the pastoral center, across the street and towards the chapel.
We were surprised when Monsignor Mark Lane who was presiding over the Mass, stopped us and the entire line. He held Samantha’s hand to introduce himself. I was touched that the Monsignor had not only taken a moment to greet Samantha but also had spent time learning about her. My confidence soared as we continued into the church.
I would like to report that all went smoothly during the 90 minute Mass, but we did have some tense moments. As the homily went on, Samantha began to get a bit restless and agitated. Jackie pulled out some gum and Samantha chomped through four pieces while I prayed, “Please help us through the homily, Lord.”
It was finally time to go up for the anointing with oil. Samantha waited patiently for her turn. When she approached the Monsignor, she became a little shy as if not sure she really trusted him to touch her forehead. But Monsignor Lane talked her through the process. I stood off to the side, trying to control the tears of happiness, pride and love I felt.
We made our way back to our seats and I kept thinking, “Wow! We actually made it through the rite of Confirmation.” We still had to make it through the rest of the mass, but being familiar with all the regular mass order, Samantha seemed more relaxed.
The mass ended and it was time for photos. At first I thought, “Samantha is not going to tolerate this, she is ready to leave”, but she surprised me. We followed the Blessed Sacrament group up to the altar and took a photo. My mind exploded with thought, “If there is anything that is the exact opposite of exclusion it is this; fully included, participating with her peers, accepted as member of the church, one of the body of Christ.”
8 years ago, we tentatively stepped into Blessed Sacrament Church, unsure of being accepted or of how to educate Samantha, a child with autism. With much support from our parish, hard work on the part of Samantha, myself and many others, Samantha was included in this holy sacrament of the Catholic Church. It was not always easy and there were certainly a lot of bumps along the way but this day we experienced the joy of inclusion. I pray that, as the faith and disabilities movement moves throughout our country, ours will become a common story, and that the joy of inclusion can be experienced by all. Thanks be to God!
Special Needs Inclusion Joy at Your House?
Have you experienced the joy of special needs inclusion on behalf of your child? We’d love to hear about it. So share your story in the comment box if you like.
Do you like what you see at DifferentDream.com? You can receive more great content by subscribing to the quarterly Different Dream newsletter and signing up for the daily RSS feed delivered to your email inbox. You can sign up for the first in the pop up box and the second at the bottom of this page.