You know me. All of you here know me and my family. It’s hard to not notice us. We are the ones who come in late a lot more than we would like to. It’s hard for our son Michael to coordinate getting dressed and leaving for somewhere on time. And when we do, our son will sometimes get overexcited and announces, “Hi everyone. I’m here.” Even if mass has started, he is oblivious to staying quiet sometimes unless we remind him. One of the social challenges of autism.
We are also the family whose son has to wear headphones when the sensory overload is too much. We are the family who can be heard telling our son to not tell people where he lives, where we are going after mass, unless he is asked. We have been coming to his church with our son who has autism since he was eighteen months old and no longer needed his morning nap. You welcomed us and our very different child from the beginning. You made it easy for me when it was time for him to start catechism, to tell you about his autism and challenges.
You don’t judge us. You embrace for all that we are. You try and understand our family, our struggles. You have offered us a handshake and hug, high fives to our son. You understand that Sunday school has become too much of a sensory overload for his nine year old body and mind this year, so we are back in the baby room where he can play, follow mass, color or ask questions.
Yes, the fact that he is verbal is so helpful. He can talk to you. You can talk to him. There have been times when he is in meltdown mode when this is not the best, but you wonderful parishioners give us our space, the Moms, the Dads, the other kids who look at my son strangely but seem to intuitively know when he needs help and have offered it.
You all also understand when he likes to come out of the baby room to watch what is happening at the altar. You wonderful ushers walk by and smile at him. I remember when I first met you. My belly was moving and the little being inside kicking away. You shook my hand at peace, and addressed that love to the baby inside me while looking at my belly.
You have many special children at this church with autism and various other challenges. My husband and I have joke that we diagnosed a few ourselves. The community is warm, supportive. There have been times when we had to flee as it wasn’t working. You understood that too. Most weeks now we stay and join the rest of the community, talking when we can, leaving quickly when we need to. You all get it.
You were all looking on with pride the day my son made his First Communion last year. Your faces all said, “We made it!” We did indeed all make it. You now look on with joy as he takes communion every week with my husband and I, and smile when he says, “I’m eating Jesus’ bread.”