Spiritual Resources Article
April is Autism Awareness Month
April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism is a spectrum disorder and affects people in various ways. Some people with Autism need a full-time caregiver while others live independently within their communities without anyone noticing they have Autism. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum, all persons with Autism are called to full meaningful participation in the life of the Church. National Catholic Partnership on disability has a variety of resources available for persons with disabilities and family members.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder first described in psychiatric literature in 1943. While the definition of ASD has changed over time, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V, 2013) defines ASD as involving both persistent deficits in social communication/interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. Additionally, individuals with ASD may or may not have significant deficits in language, and may or may not have significant deficits in cognitive abilities. According to the CDC, 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD in the United States (CDC, 2018). In 2017, ASD was deemed the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States (CDC, 2018).
As a “spectrum,” ASD characteristics vary considerably in severity and type. On one end of the spectrum, features of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a particular person are mild and sometimes not easily identifiable. These characteristics may include difficulties in picking up on social cues, or difficulty making eye contact. On the other end of the spectrum, a person could have ASD characteristics which are considerably more profound and include significant cognitive, communication and functional impairments.. It is believed that about one-third of individuals with ASD are non-verbal, and some have significantly challenging behaviors.. In order to ensure that all persons with ASD can meaningfully participate in the Church, individualized attention is key, as well as a diverse repertoire of resources and accommodations.
Today, Catholics across the United States are becoming more aware of ASD which has led to effective teaching styles, accommodations, and education in parishes across the United States. Adults with ASD are writing about their experiences in ministry and Catholic publishers are creating faith formation curriculum that engages different learning needs. Behavior Analysts are working with diocesan directors to help individuals with ASD meaningfully participate across the life-span in Liturgy, and Catholic parents are sharing their input on the needs of individuals more profoundly affected by ASD.
Visit the NCPD website for more info and resources here: https://ncpd.org/disability-ministry/autism-spectrum-disorder
Associate Director, Ministry to Persons with Disabilities, Caregivers and the Deaf
Melissa Waldon, M.S., is currently serving as the Associate Director of Ministry to Persons with Disabilities for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. One main job she has is coordinating catechesis for people with disabilities at the parishes. She has taught children with disabilities at the elementary and secondary levels and has been a school counselor. Her experience as a catechist includes multiple grade levels. Melissa is married with 4 children. She has 23 years of combined experience as a parent, educator and of being an advocate for children with disabilities. She has been a presenter for the University of Dallas Ministry Conference, for the Diocese of Corpus Christie, as well as the Diocese of Tyler to help raise awareness of disabilities and to offer best practices in order to foster meaningful participation of all persons within the life of the church. She also is a core member of the Council of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for NCPD and serves on the Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas.