Baptism for special needs child


If a child has autism & is mentally challenged, is baptism necessary? What if the parents kept putting it off & the child is now almost grown, but lacks the capacity to choose? The parents/godparents are making a promise to “bring the child up Catholic”, but there are few resources to bring the faith to the mentally challenged.


Baptism is still necessary as there is still original sin. The parents should talk with their parish priest.


I agree, but there is no real hope of teaching the faith. The child is nearly adult by age, but still a child mentally. His mom & dad were never married. If the parents are not concerned, can the grandparents ask the priest to baptize this child as long as the parents consent?


Definitely have to ask the priest on that one.


It is necessary to baptize, even infants. And infants cannot sin. Those that have not attained the use of reason are as infants (per canon law, which describes the sacramental discipline).


Not to criticize your post, but Autism is hardly a disorder that makes one unable to choose. While there certainly are Autistics who are low functioning and have MR, many are high functioning and to be honest aren’t that different from us and struggle socially more than anything.

My brother is a high functioning young man with Autism and even as a child he was fully capable of his thoughts and actions and there was no question about him being baptized as a baby. Also, many autistics and those with Aspergers (a type of autism) are very holy. One kid I used to know very well had aspergers and had a beautiful faith and was very involved with our music program at our college church.


The child should be baptized if at all possible. Even babies born with no brain and only a brain stem are baptized. If the parents consent, then the grandparents should be able to present the child for baptism. The grandparents need to consult their priest for guidance on how to do this.

If heaven forbid, the child or young man is at risk of death and there is no time for a priest, any one, including a grandparent, can administer baptism. But without that emergency, this should be brought to the priest.

My son has Down syndrome with moderate intellectual delay, but I’m extremely active in special needs advocacy and I’ve seen children and adults with autism who have extreme mental delay requiring the care one would extend to an infant all the way to high functioning.

Even First Communion is possible in most cases - the Church only requires a minimal understanding of the concept – primarily that the child understand the difference between food and Eucharist and show some form of respect and reverence. Most priests nowadays will administer Confirmation during First Communion to a child with special needs. A priest who is uncertain can and will bring it up with his bishop for the final say so.


The OP said the child has “autism & is mentally challenged.” In our last parish there happened to be 2 young women who were both. Neither have the mental ability to choose much of anything. Fortunately for them, their parents are Catholic & both were baptised as infants. Also fortunately, everyone in the parish was very understanding of the occasional loud outbursts & the the inability (for 1) to sit still for very long.


Confirmation and communion should be offered at the same time as baptism. The church wants all Catholics to have access to all sacraments.


That would be the norm in many eastern Catholic churches but not in the Latin Church (unless there is the danger of death). See the canon law of the Latin Church:

ResponsibiltyCan. 99 Whoever habitually lacks the use of reason is considered as incapable of personal responsibility and is regarded as an infant.
ConfirmationCan. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is a danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise.
Can. 883 The following have, by law, the faculty to administer confirmation:
[INDENT]1° within the confines of their jurisdiction, those who in law are equivalent to a diocesan Bishop;
2° in respect of the person to be confirmed, the priest who by virtue of his office or by mandate of the diocesan Bishop baptises an adult or admits a baptised adult into full communion with the catholic Church;
3° in respect of those in danger of death, the parish priest or indeed any priest.
[/INDENT]EucharistCan. 913
§1 For holy communion to be administered to children, it is required that they have sufficient knowledge and be accurately prepared, so that according to their capacity they understand what the mystery of Christ means, and are able to receive the Body of the Lord with faith and devotion.
§2 The blessed Eucharist may, however, be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion with reverence.
Promotion and RestrictionCan. 914 It is primarily the duty of parents and of those who take their place, as it is the duty of the parish priest, to ensure that children who have reached the use of reason are properly prepared and, having made their sacramental confession, are nourished by this divine food as soon as possible. It is also the duty of the parish priest to see that children who have not reached the use of reason, or whom he has judged to be insufficiently disposed, do not come to holy communion.


For what its worth, I am a religious education teacher in my parish, and I have taught first communion, confirmation, and confession classes for children from second/third grade through high school. My best student, in terms of interest in the lessons, was an elementary school-aged young lady with autism. She had some difficulty uderstanding some of the classroom lessons, but understood better than any other student that God loved her and that she ought to love God in return. My favorite moment of that year was watching how excited she was to make her first confession. Most of us tend to be so scared and apprehensive, but she was a brilliant example of contrition, and I still feel enourmously fulfilled when I see her receive communion at Sunday Mass.


Thanks for your replies. This is my son’s child & my oldest grandchild. He was a teenager not practicing at the time this child was born; the mom was raised in a Baptist tradition & has since married but does not practice any religion that I know of. My son eventually embraced his faith after he married & had other children. The younger children are baptized, but he has procrastinated with baptism for this older child with special needs, because he felt that he needed the mom’s approval but did not want to ask. They have joint custody, but she has physical custody. The mom has given approval. Now we need to determine where & when, and talk to a priest.


Praise God! What good news. Hoping the event is intensely special for your son, grandson and entire family. Although the baptism a bit unusual compared to the norm, you find a way to mark this event in a special way and that your grandson experiences the embrace of God and family on his special day.

Be sure to come back to CAF on the prayer intention forum and ask us all to embrace your grandson in prayer on the day of his baptism!


From Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities

  1. All baptized, unconfirmed Catholics who possess the use of reason may receive the sacrament of confirmation if they are suitably instructed, properly disposed and able to renew their baptismal promises (Canon 889). Persons who because of developmental or mental disabilities may never attain the use of reason are to be encouraged either directly or, if necessary, through their parents or guardian, to receive the sacrament of confirmation at the appropriate time.


Excellent quote. It also reflects in idea that Baptism and Confirmation do not require full comprehension, as an sacramental discipline in the Latin Church.


I am so glad I found this Thread.
It gives me hope.
I have a daughter that is Mentally Retarded. She is 18 years old.
I have returned to the church after 22 years. I have talked with a Deacon from my church and plan to have her baptised.


closed #17

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit