There has been a media frenzy in the news this week about a severely autistic boy, “banned from the church”.
A restraining order has been issued to the parents of Adam Race because his behavior has become dangerous and unruly during church services at The Church of St. Joseph in Bertha, Minnesota.
According to the priest who filed the restraining order, the man-sized child at six feet tall and 225 pounds has physically injured other members of the congregation, spat on them and urinated in the pews. He was able to bolt outside and start two vehicles (deadly weapons) and rev their engines while Sunday services were taking place.
The mother’s response to her disabled son’s behavior is ”I cannot discipline him out of his autism.” I agree and don’t think anyone is asking or expecting her to do that.
Apparently the church has offered many alternatives for these situations…using the cry room, video streams of the service into a private room and even mass at home for the family.
The mother, according to reports, has taken an all or nothing approach, citing discrimination against her disabled son. She either wants him to attend mass in the way every other member of the congregation does or try to correct what she sees as an injustice.
Although I have a great deal of heartfelt compassion for families affected with autistic children, I feel Adam’s parent’s may have lost sight of the bigger picture and have developed tunnel vision in trying to be their child’s advocate.
Now in no way do I claim to be an autism expert of any kind and again I feel nothing but empathy for this family but from over here in the cheap seats, I wonder about certain things.
Are Adam’s immediate abilities and needs being met or forgotten by putting him in a situation where he is expected to quietly sit still for an hour?
Is Adam really developing spiritual growth during this time?
Should a congregation be responsible for socializing a child at the risk of injuring others when even the parents are unable to control him? (The parents have to sit on him to calm him down and use soft ties around his wrists and ankles.)
If this child was not autistic, would this even be an issue? Would a non-autistic child be allowed to attend church and hurt others without question?
Do the autistic child’s rights outweigh the rights of others?
Is it a disservice putting Adam into situations causing him distress?
Do his parent’s recognize his overload triggers?
These questions filled my mind when I read about this very sad story.
Should parents with autistic children never leave their house and not develop relationships with others because of their child’s disability? Absolutely not. But there are limits to what each unique, autistic child can or cannot handle. It is a parent’s job to recognize these limits and proceed with activities accordingly.
Should attending church be a pleasant experience for all or just one family seeking comfort?
Why frustrate this poor child to the point of his acting out for what he is faced with?
Are there not many other opportunities to mainstream special needs kids? Is mass one of those places?
One day Adam may be able to sit with minimal disruption in church, but between his adolescence and autism he is unable to demonstrate that possibility at this point in time.
I am lucky enough to be blessed with two healthy sons and cannot even imagine the struggles families face when trying to decide what their autistic child can successfully handle. I can only imagine the heartbreak.
However, I will say I am ashamed at the so called advocacy group implying this is strictly a discrimination issue. Are they really helping in taking that approach?
In our society we do make accommodations for people with disabilities such as handicapped bathrooms, accessible entries and exits for those in wheelchairs and the use of Braille, to name just a few. However, how do we accommodate a person with a disability which interferes with the welfare of the non-disabled?
How does everyone else feel about this? Does anyone see this in a different way? I myself am trying to come to terms with what is the right approach in a situation like this.
I hoped the church and the parents could have worked out a more amicable solution. Both sides took their stance and now it seems there is no hope for Adam.
It is not clear in this news story if the family was offered help of any kind from the congregation.