How do I prepare a disabled child for First Holy Communion?

My 9-year-old daughter suffers from a genetic disorder called Sotos Syndrome. She is slightly retarded and has a long list of unexplainable phobias. Unfortunately, one of her phobias is being sprinkled with holy water in church. Every Sunday it’s an enormous struggle just to get her into church and I end up missing half the Mass trying to reassure her that the priest or deacon is not going to sprinkle holy water this Sunday.

If I happen to forget (for instance last Palm Sunday), she becomes hysterical and I have to leave to get her calmed down. Then, it takes weeks afterwards before I can get her stay calm during Mass.

Any sudden movement or unfamiliar ceremony sets her on edge. I have tried reasoning with her, I have tried to get her to talk to the priest – who is a very nice and patient man – but the priestly robes make her uneasy up close. (She has an extreme phobia of costumes and sees vestments as just another costume).

With all of this, I don’t see how she can understand enough of what is going on to make her Communion. When I go up to Communion, she hangs on to the back of my shirt; and if the priest tries to give her a blessing, she almost pulls me down trying to avoid the touch. She does not like to be touched by strangers and will only greet family members at the sign of peace.

My wife is no help because she has a host of chronic health and mental problems and rarely goes to church with us. I am at my wits end or maybe past it.

I recommend calling your diocese and asking for information for the catechesis of special-needs children. Your diocese may also have services available to support disabled Catholics and their caregivers.

In the meantime, if your daughter is unable to participate at Mass because of her illness, she is not required to attend Mass. If you are not able to leave your daughter with your wife or with another reliable caregiver, care for a sick child is just reason to miss Mass.

As for First Communion, I would imagine that a special-needs child could be prepared individually and could make a private First Communion, perhaps outside of Mass with a priest in clerical blacks or an EMHC coming to your home to give her Communion. Again, I recommend calling your diocese for help in meeting your family’s pastoral needs. God bless.

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