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Working with Children with Disabilities

If we truly believe, as our work in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd tells us, that we are “led by the child” then we will meet each child in the atrium wherever they are on their faith journey.  In the Rome atrium, there was a woman working on the Level II “Mystery of Faith” presentation, she was a person with a developmental disability. Sofia commented, “…in here she has clarity.”  It is really that simple!

Once a child with disabilities is accepted into an atrium, many practical tasks remain: assessing the child’s abilities, identifying a catechist, and determining which materials are appropriate.  Linda Sgammato, CGSUSA Advisor for Children with Disabilities and Director of Special Religious Education, Catechetical Office, Archdiocese of New York offers words of greeting here.



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Matthew, Age 8, has autism
First of all, always remember that:

• You already have everything you need… to welcome, to support and to share the faith with children in your atrium who have disabilities. You will find that the efforts you make on behalf of particular children have a way of reaching a much wider sphere.

• When you respond to the need of a family, you reflect the God of inclusion. When you say “yes to include their child, you are saying “yes” to the whole family. Your “yes” means we are truly a Church that will move boundaries to make sure that there is a place for everyone.

Unless you are the parent of a child with a disability or a special education teacher you may not feel you are knowledgeable enough to work with children who have disabilities. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of the various types of disabilities that children in your atriums may have.

There are several sources you can turn to for this information including a Parish Resource Guide for Welcoming Children with Disabilities, "Recognizing The Gift," that has just been published by the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of New York, Linda Sgammato and Sr. Anne Ryan, PBVM, co-authors.  This publication is now available in our online store.  

Helpful Links for those Working with Children with Disabilities:

National Catholic Partnership on Disability - This organization works collaboratively to ensure meaningful participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of the life of the Church and society. The National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd partnered with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership to present a webinar to provide tools for catechetical ministry with those having mild to severe disabilities. Fr. Bill Gillum, OFM Cap, M.Ed., Director of Pastoral Care, McGuire Memorial, and Mary Mirrione, MAPS-CGS, Director, National Association of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, presented. 

Autism Speaks
- This organization gives information on autism, including networking, events, community outreach, resources, and more on the national and local levels.

Network for Inclusive Catholic Education (NICE) - This resource includes sacramental preparation and overall planning materials for a religious education program for those with disabilities.

(AAIDD) – Religion and Spirituality Group – This organization is an interfaith, interdisciplinary association of professional ordained and lay people who journey with persons with developmental disabilities and their families.

Cerebral Palsy Guidance  This organization was created to provide answers and assistance to parents of a child with cerebral palsy. Their goal is to reach as many members of the cerebral palsy community as possible, building up a network of support, as well as providing necessary assistance.  They cover cerebral palsy from all angles–from symptoms, causes, and treatment, to daily living information, such as communication and transitioning to adulthood articles. Their information is provided by expert writers and is thoroughly researched and cited. They encourage anyone with a question or looking for assistance to contact them.

 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Pastoral Statement of United States Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, 1978 Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, 1995

L’Arche USA web site Founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964, L’Arche communities bear witness to the reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship. They make explicit the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together and recognize the gifts of persons with intellectual disabilities. 

Helpful Links to other websites may also be found here.

This page is in development and we look forward to offering more of an introduction to understanding the child with disabilities soon. If you would like to request a website to be added please contact marymirrione@cgsusa.org.