How to approach my son with Autism about Catholicism


Hello! I’m new at the forum, although not new to Catholic Answers. I would like some input into how to approach my 18 year old who is in the ASD Spectrum (High Functioning Autism) about God.
Just to give a bit of family history, my son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 8 once language understanding/writing became difficult and he developed OCD. I homeschooled him until middle school which was a blessing and he was able to receive intensive help for both OCD and Social Anxiety typical of Autism. My curriculum was Catholic based and we have always been very active in church. He has had all sacraments done and fully understand all sacraments, commandments etc.
During his high school years it was determined that it was better for him to be in boarding school to help him develop skills to be independent. While in boarding school he struggled with depression and eventually developed what is called Philosophical Existential OCD which is another way to say he became obsessed with finding out answers to impossible questions (he had an existential crisis).
He then, stopped attending mass and explained to me that he does not understand how God exists. He wants to believe but has no physical evidence of God (kids with autism are very concrete).
He stopped taking communion because he feels that it would be disrespectful to take communion if he’s not sure if God really exists (gosh I wish he could speak with Trent Horn).
I worry about him and giving up his faith (or even be talked out of it by new friends) now that he is in college (special college).
I’ve given him support, lots of love and prayers and I tell him I will be here if he ever wants to talk to me about God (he told me he didn’t want to have someone “convince him”). I always give him blessings when I see him or talk to him but I wish I could do more to help him understand better.
Mass is pretty difficult for him because he gets overwhelmed with words, so when he attends with us he stays standing in the back of church.
Besides little changes like that and small talks I don’t know how else to help him answer his questions which are 1.How do we REALLY know God exists and 2. Can I go to heaven if I’m not sure if he exists.
Im at a point where I told God to take over but I also feel responsible to give him the right information to help him not loose faith. I don’t know what else I can do to help him.
Thanks so much for any help, sorry I have written a long message.


Please, don’t be offended. It’s nothing personal about you or your son. But do ‘they’ (meaning doctors, teachers…anyone we look to, as having authority)have to make everything that’s a little off the beaten path, into a mental illness?

I’d just see this as normal development…your son is growing up! All young people have questions… It’s a normal part of his development! Be glad that he’s bright enough to ask questions, and trusts you enough to share them with you.

However well you know your son, God knows him better. However much you love your son, God loves him more. You did the right thing, homeschooling him for as long as you did. It may have kept him from learning to be secretive!

Just keep praying for him. Buy him some age-and-development-level appropriate books. You can ask your pastor, or his teachers for recommendations…I’m sure you’ll get some here too.
Your son is a bright, courageous young man trying to find his way in this world. God bless him. And you!


Please, don’t be offended. It’s nothing personal about you or your son. But do ‘they’ (meaning doctors, teachers…anyone we look to, as having authority)have to make everything that’s a little off the beaten path, into a mental illness?

Hello! Thanks for your response, no worries I don’t get offended easily.

I do have to clarify that Autism is not “made up” to make things harder. But rather a develomental disorder that impacts the nervous system therefore kids (my son does) have difficulty with communication, with social interactions and obsessive interests. Language IS very difficult for him and Autism is VERY REAL to us and many families. Our world is very social, therefore difficult to keep up when social interactions and language is your “kryptonite” (as I like to call it).
Is not made up, is real and hard to deal with.

You are right! As much as I love him, God loves him more…I guess I would like to make sure that I don’t “drop the subject” and don’t do anything about it…(that mom worry thing :relaxed: )


Welcome to the forum!

My son also has autism—though he is 9 and is non-verbal, so at the moment it’s difficult to have conversations with him about anything more abstract than eating and going to play outside. :blush:

Of course, you definitely want to pray for him. I’m sure you are doing plenty of that already, but I always like to say it. I think it’s also helpful for us to pray specifically that God will send the right people into the lives of our loved ones—faithful Catholic people who may be able to strike a chord with them where we are unable to do so.

I understand about the concrete type of thinking. In a very real sense, though, Catholicism is the most concrete religion of them all. Our faith is built on a real person who really existed in human history. The Church dispenses the sacraments, which are concrete and tangible ways that we can encounter God and receive grace.

Does he like to read? Would he be open to reading through books (such as perhaps by a Catholic philosopher like Peter Kreeft)? Kreeft has some great books like “Fundamentals of the Faith,” “Yes or No?” and a new one “40 Reasons I’m a Catholic.” I have always found his books to be very clear and very reasonable. He tends to use a lot of great analogies, which I think are enormously helpful with trying to make concrete that which is immaterial.

Even if he doesn’t want to read such books, you can still read them. That can assist you when having conversations with him. You want to walk the line between being over-bearing about it and just dropping it completely. I like to pray to the Holy Spirit to provide the opportunities for those discussions and to give me the words to say when they arise.

I will keep your family in prayer. God bless!


I certainly didn’t mean to make light of Autism…which is very real, and is a difficult challenge both to those who have it, and the ones who love them.
But, while ‘existential OCD’ may explain a lot, almost every 18-year-old seems to have it…to some degree. It’s been called ‘existential anxiety’ or simply ‘existentialism’ for about a hundred years. Maybe more. It describes the return to ‘ground zero’ when a person puts aside what he has learned, and searches for his own answers! No, its nothing to make light of, but almost everyone with a thinking mind goes through at some time in life, usually the late teens. I just wanted you to understand that it is not just another ‘illness’ being attached to your son. It’s part of growing up.

As to his question on whether it’s disrespectful for him to take communion while he’s not sure God exists, you could point out that Jesus said, himself, that he wanted us to do that, in memory of him. So, if Jesus does exist, wouldn’t it be best to do as he asked? In fact, just reading and talking about the life of Jesus might help. If you don’t think he could grasp this story right from the Bible, read to him from a book of Bible stories.

Please, don’t let this overly concern you. It sounds as if you, and he are doing quite well, with the challenges put before you.


Two resources:

Disability resources

I also agree that he sounds like MANY young people today. I’d read a bunch of stuff over at

and encourage him to read there, engage there.


Thanks Joe_5859
He liked to read depending not the book and how is written but again, is not his strength. I know about Peter Kreeft and right now I am reading “Why we are Catholic” by Trent Horn just to have more knowledge myself. Thanks for the input.


True Legend, existential crisis is a “grown up thing” and very real for all kids his age. Also, reading about Jesus life right from the Bible might help as well (He’s not sure the Bible was written by “real people” and it was maybe made up), but it might help.
Thanks foe your suggestion and understanding. I guess I’m the one worrying too much🤦🏻‍♀️. I keep on learning every day!


I suggest you reach out to your diocesan vicar of clergy and find out if any priests in the diocese are trained in spiritual direction for people who have OCD/anxiety, scruples, and similar disorders. This is not something to undertake without someone who is trained to assist those in these sorts of situations.


Thanks TheLittleLady for those resources. I checked them out and will be going more deep in it and will share with him definitely!


Honestly what worked with our son (who is 30 and has high functioning Autism) is that he always went to Mass with us and he always made the Sacraments with those his age. We had to actually make our own personal story books about the Mass, what his behavior should be at Mass and anything else we thought appropriate. EVERY time we drove to Church for Mass we would read this story book to him or have hi read it aloud so he could remember and refresh what would be happening and what to do and not do. Is it perfect no not always even today but he is there every Sunday and he KNOWS why he’s there. He had to have individual instruction from me for Confirmation and then he, hubby and I met with the Priest while the Priest questioned him about certain aspects of the Faith to see if he knew what it all meant. (Just a little something extra) the Priest asked him about something very specific about the Faith and why we believe that and our son gave a very “elaborate answer” to Father. Father asked us if we had taught him that specific thing and I said no not really. He said wow some very learned scholars could not even have said what he said in the way he said it.

“Catholicism for Dummies” was a GREAT resource and NO don’t get bogged down by the name. It really helped a lot and was easy for him to understand. Could you set up a special extended meeting time with Father, you and him and have a bunch of things written down to go over with Father to help him understand.


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