April and May are traditional months for children to make their First Holy Communion. It is not uncommon to have a "sea of white" at Mass on what we all hope will be a beautiful and sunny day. First Communicants dressed in their beautiful dresses and veils and suits and ties. You can feel the excitement and joy in the packed church.
About 15 years ago we experienced the joy as parents when our son Brendan received his First Holy Communion. Two years later his brother Colin followed. In those days we were unaware that children with special needs may have difficulty preparing for this sacrament. But then our daughter Danielle was diagnosed with autism around her fourth birthday. Because she is non-verbal, had difficulty attending and engaged in challenging behaviors we thought it unlikely that she could receive her First Holy Communion.
Still, it was very important to us that Danielle receive her communion as her brothers did. We felt strongly that she should be able to receive Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. We had to use pictures to teach her what she needed to know about the sacrament and how to behave in a reverent way.
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The materials that we made to teach Danielle eventually became The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit.
This kit teaches individuals with no or limited verbal skills the basics of the liturgy and helps prepare them for their First Holy Communion. This kit is now available in English and Spanish. An important piece of the kit is My Picture Missal, which shows the order of the Mass in pictures. Danielle relies on this handy tool every Sunday.
Using the missal she has learned to sit, stand and kneel at the appropriate times and can anticipate what is coming next, follow along with what is going on and distinguish between the different parts of the Mass. The missal has been developed into an App.
It has been almost ten years since Danielle made her First Holy Communion. She continues to receive Communion each week at Mass reverently and looks forward to it. This far exceeded our expectations. A few years later our youngest child Shannon made her First Holy Communion too. In our dining room there is a photograph of each of our children in their Communion attire hanging on the wall. We are glad that Danielle's picture is among them. In the Eucharistic prayer Jesus says "Take This All of You." Children with special needs are part of that all. More information on The Adaptive First Eucharist Kit can be found at www.loyolapress.com.
Copyright 2016 David and Mercedes Rizzo.
All photos copyright 2016 David and Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.
About the Author
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).