April is Autism Awareness Month. A common feature of autism is insistence on sameness and following routines. The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for people with autism because it has caused an abrupt and unexplainable change in their daily routines. Many of the activities that were a regular and expected part of their lives have been disrupted and suspended indefinitely. This includes school, work, family gatherings, athletics, and attending church.
Our daughter Danielle has autism and is non-verbal. She loves to attend Mass and looks forward to it. Frequently on Sundays, she will remind us that it is time for church. She does this by using an electronic speech device. She presses “church” and then usually one of her favorite prayers.
The first weekend when we were required to follow the stay-at-home protocol, we viewed Mass by live stream on the computer. Danielle was a little unsure of the whole thing. Although she sat there quietly with her Picture Missal and watched what was happening on the computer, she seemed less than enthusiastic about it, and at times inattentive.
As the weeks went by and we continued to present the live stream Mass to her each Sunday, she became more focused. Gradually she started to tolerate this new routine better. A few days ago, we watched the Easter Mass livestreamed from Villanova University. It was touching to hear the celebrant pray for the class of 2020 because our son Colin will graduate from law school there in May. Danielle was happy to hear the music. She smiled along as the choir sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” She followed the prayers.
The idea of spiritual communion, where we ask that Jesus come spiritually into our hearts since we cannot receive Him sacramentally, was very difficult for her to grasp. She is used to walking in line and receiving the Body of Christ from the priest reverently. That’s her routine and it took a really long time for her to master this skill. So we’re not sure what she thought about spiritual communion. Perhaps she understands it better than we know.
These are strange and difficult times. Yet the Church continues to be the Body of Christ even when we are sheltered in place at home. The priest shed some light on this when he elevated the host and repeated the famous words of Saint Augustine, “See what you believe and become what you see.” People with autism and all the rest of us are learning this as we go.
Copyright 2020 Dave and Mercedes Rizzo