Book Notes: Faith Formation Resources for Special-Needs Children


Book Notes 720 x 340 medium blue outline and medium blue pen _ Notes light blue (2)

Last week, David and Mercedes Rizzo shared their experience at Mass as parents of a special-needs child and how they despaired of ever being able to sit with Danielle, who has autism, in the pews rather than the cry room. That story is a perfect introduction to the two books they’ve written, designed to help parents and catechists educate special-needs children in the faith.

faith family and children with special needsThe back cover of David Rizzo’s first book, Faith, Family and Children with Special Needs, says it all:

Your child with special needs has spiritual needs.
So do you.

As you read in their article last week, the Rizzo family was encouraged by their parish priest to continue to bring their daughter to Mass. David Rizzo wrote about their experience and what they learned in chapter 3 of Faith, Family and Children with Special Needs:

It’s important for parents of children with disabilities to remember that they have a right and a duty to carve out sacred space for themselves. Many things change in the aftermath of having a special-needs child; some things do not. First and foremost–God still loves you, and you still have a need for intimacy with the Divine. (p. 25)

The Rizzos created a Picture Missal, designed for parents and children to use together to reinforce particular actions at Mass (kneeling at the proper time, for example). This and other resources they have developed since then are now available to families and to parishes so that families of special-needs children can better meet their children’s spiritual needs.

David Rizzo explains the sacrament-preparation process his daughter went through, stressing that with modifications, special-needs children are able to fully live the sacramental life of the Church. Later in the book, he offers ideas for ways in which special-needs children can participate in works of mercy as well as strategies parents can use as they persevere in the day-to-day care and education of their children. One of the most powerful sections of the chapter on perseverance is titled “What to do when your own strength isn’t enough?”

spiritually ableSpiritually Able: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Faith to Children with Special Needs deals more with the nuts and bolts of faith formation. In this guidebook, David and Mercedes Rizzo discuss the how-to of such topics as

  • familiarizing your child with the church
  • teaching your children about God, Jesus, Mary, and the roles of the priest and other religious
  • First Holy Communion
  • Reconciliation
  • Confirmation
  • inclusion in parish life
  • Christian service
  • celebrating joyful moments such as baptisms and Christmas
  • grief and loss
  • marriage and self-care

The Rizzos explain that nearly all religious educations have an at-home dimension, which is even more important when a family has a special-needs child. Because many parishes do not have special-needs religious education programs, families may need to work out other alternatives. This book provides parents with information, lesson ideas and teaching strategies as well as a meditation on each subject to help the parents nourish their own spiritual lives.

David and Mercedes Rizzo draw on their first-hand experience and share their knowledge with parents and religious educators. Special-needs children can participate in the sacramental life of the church, and their parents can and must feed their own spiritual needs. These books, with their optimistic tone, encourage parents of special-needs children to take heart regarding the faith formation of their children.

If you’re interested in purchasing these books, consider stopping in at your local Catholic bookstore first. They are also available online, and if you use our Amazon links, gets a small percentage of the sales.

Be sure to check out our Book Notes archive.


About Author

Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is editor at Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count.

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