Mercedes and David Rizzo
One Saturday evening 5 years ago, we were sitting in the pew with our four children at Mass. During the consecration, the priest held up the host and repeated the words of Jesus: “Take this all of you and eat.” The word “all” resonated in the spacious church and we realized that our 7-year-old daughter Danielle, who has autism, was certainly part of that “all.” But as we fixed our eyes on the consecrated bread and wine, we were both praying God in heaven; don’t let her spit it out.
Fortunately, when a few minutes later the time came for Danielle to receive her First Holy Communion, our prayers were answered. Danielle received the precious Body of Christ reverently. Kneeling together in silence, our family shared this very special moment in our daughter’s life, a moment we thought might never happen.
But our story didn’t begin that August evening. When Danielle was age 4, she was diagnosed with autism, a neurological condition that affects language, social interaction, and behavior. Danielle is non-verbal and we realized early on that for her to receive the gifts of the sacraments she would require a different approach than what is used for most children, including her two older brothers.
Like many children with autism, Danielle is a visual learner and uses a picture-based language to communicate. Therefore, she needed a visual, picture-based approach to learn what was needed in order to be ready to receive her sacraments. She prepared for her First Holy Communion using a variety of homemade teaching tools. With this approach, she was able to satisfy the bishops’ requirements of distinguishing the consecrated host from ordinary food and receiving communion reverently. We were so proud of her!
Some time after this, our son Brendan, a Boy Scout, was nearing the rank of Eagle. As part of this process, he had to organize and implement a special project. He remembered how we had prepared Danielle for her First Communion and told us that other parents “should not have to reinvent the wheel.”
Therefore, for his Eagle Scout Project, he developed a special needs resource library in our parish to be used by children who might require special approaches to prepare for their sacraments. Out of this we put together additional materials that ultimately became The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit, now available through Loyola Press.
This brings us back to the words of Jesus quoted at the beginning of our story: “Take this all of you and eat.” We believe that Jesus was reaching out to all people everywhere, including people with cognitive and developmental disabilities. We believe strongly that Jesus meant to include all God’s children and that is why we are so excited to see the Adaptive First Eucharist Kit available as a resource to help this all become a reality.
Mercedes and David Rizzo
August 28, 2011