Here is an issue I have some experience with:
A New Jersey couple said their 8-year-old son is being denied the chance to receive First Communion by their church because he is autistic.
Jimmy LaCugna said in a Facebook post that he and his wife were informed Tuesday by the Rev. John Bambrick at Saint Aloysius Church that their son Anthony won’t be able to participate in the religious ceremony because he feels the boy is “unable to determine right from wrong due to his disability.”
LaCugna said they were told that Anthony, who is nonverbal, is not at the “benchmark required to make his communion.”
“This is very hard and upsetting to comprehend when we all are created by God and now our son is being shunned from the Catholic faith due to his inability to communicate,” LaCugna wrote, adding that his son “wouldn’t even be able to create a sin because he is one of the sweetest and innocent little boy someone would ever meet.”
First Communion is typically taken in a Catholic church when children are 7 or 8 years old and after they complete religious classes and confess their sins.
Anthony’s mother, Nicole LaCugna, told News 12 New Jersey that because he cannot speak it has been a struggle for him but that he should not be denied communion.
Go here to read the rest. My sainted son Larry was autistic. He was not non-verbal but his communication was limited. For example if you named choices for supper he could say which he would prefer. If we were traveling in a car and we took an unusual way home, he would say, “This way! This way!’. His communications could be cryptic to people outside the family. In the family we usually knew what he was referring to. Larry could read and operate videos on his own. I always believed, based on my observations, that he understood far, far more about the world around him than he was able to communicate. Along with his siblings, we gave him religious instruction at home. Like his brother and sister he would repeat the phrase “First it’s bread now it’s Jesus and first it’s wine, now it’s Jesus” at the consecration. When it came to First Communion our priest was quite sympathetic. When it came to his first Communion I suspect that the priest probably asked him questions like, “Are you a good boy?” “Do you want to be a good boy?” “Are you sorry when you are bad?” Larry was quite good at answering straight-forward yes and no questions. I have no doubt that he understood good behavior and bad behavior. As a toddler he would get a mischievous smile on his face as he approached the printer paper feed on one of our computers because he knew that he was not supposed to touch it.
Obviously the challenge is much greater with a non-verbal autistic child. I would recommend to priests that this is an area where they might lean a bit on the expertise of the parents. All children require close attention by a parent, and that level of attention needs to be greater with an autistic child. If the parents in good faith can vouch for the understanding of their child, that should be sufficient. Having an autistic child raises challenges, but it also taught me how utterly dependent I was on God. God’s love and care for Larry was a constant consolation for me. Larry could not speak of this love and care, but I am sure he felt it as I did.