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A Very Special First Communion

When my fourth child, our son Mark, was diagnosed with Autism a couple years before he'd be the average First Communion age, I never imagined what challenges awaited him as we began to prepare for the day big. I had many doubts and red flags. I have taught the first sacraments 2nd grade class at our parish for twenty years. In all those years I had only had maybe three special children that needed above and beyond the usual formation to make the sacraments. My son was the only one with Autism that I had worked with in class. Heading into December of this school year, I was planning on holding him back, thinking there was no way he could participate with a class within the liturgy,without undue attention and seriously, I didn't want to ruin it for the rest of the families on that special day.

Fast forward: with the help of Mark's speech therapist and occupational therapy, we successfully got him through first reconciliation that following February. But that was one on one, with little distraction and sensory stimulators. Our pastor was very pleased with him and felt we should “try” to help him to make first communion with the class within the liturgy as was normal at our parish. Mark knew the theology of the Body and Blood of Christ, no difficulty there. It would be the physical performance that would stress him. We began boot camp: poured on the role playing, the practicing, we handled and practiced with unconsecrated hosts, we sipped wine, we went over music, we held a lit candle for renewal of Baptismal promises as we celebrate within the Easter Season…..no surprises for that day…no chances for sensory overload. Still, more nervous than the other 19 first communions I had helped prepare children and families for…..we went forward with it all. Photos and practice the day before; Mark protested a little about the “group” photo. He does not do well with “fussing”, move here…move there…put your chin up…But, the photographer got some great shots of a very special young man. The class practiced their special song which included singing and sign language. Mark could only do one thing at a time, so he did the sign language. It was precious, and although he certainly is not not coordinated like the other children, it was so sincere and heartfelt. Mark was VERY excited to make his sacrament, although he could not express it like the other children….it came out in his “stimming”….skipping quietly across the church hall while waiting to process in; and his secret thoughts…laughing to himself with pleasure. I am grateful for a “family pew” with the first communicant sitting right within their family on the end…where mother and father can tend to them, and walk them up to receive for the first time. We were very present to Mark and it helped immensely. He did beautifully! And it was the first time he was truly tuned-into the entire mass, with anticipation…wow, he had actually made a leap from being half-involved to fully involved and attentive. What a blessing! I came away SO relieved as you can imagine. No scenes from sensory issues, no protesting …nothing but beautiful reception of the Most Holy Sacrament in both bread and wine. It was one of the most lovely days of my life that I felt so truly blessed and led by God and grateful at how He brought Mark closer to Him.

In the end, Mark announced to us later that day, “I will be able to have communion now for the rest of my life!” Yes, indeed. Praise God.

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  1. This is a beautiful story. Several years ago, 3 boys with Autism celebrated 1st Eucharist at our parish. All 3 knew the theology of the Body and Blood of Christ but when it came to receiving one boy had oral sensory integration issues – the bread was cardboard & the wine was bubble water. By working with him, his mom & our Sp Needs catechists he celebrated his 1st Eucharist 18 months later. It was a slow process, but a wonderful celebration for all.
    This year another severely autistic boy will celebrated 1st Eucharist with his younger sister. We all just need to remember that every child can celebrate 1st Eucharist, some just require a little more help.

  2. Thank you Theresa, I appreciate your comments! I am still in awe that we were able to do it. Praise God truly. And my prayers and applause to those who work with special children specifically getting them ready for the blessing of sacraments! God bless, Denise

  3. You have my vote. I understand your fears and struggles. Having a special needs child myself, wondering how the rest of the body of believers will respond also weighs heavily on a mother’s mind. I am so pleased it went beautifully and will forever be a day to treasure for you, your family but most of all your son!

  4. Denise, what a beautiful story!

  5. That made me cry! What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing Denise.

  6. Thank you KelLee and Tiffany 🙂 Appreciate it and all the support from so many that cheered us on.

  7. What a beautiful story, Denise. For the past two yrs I’ve served our church parish as the D.R.E. It has been a challenge with some of the children who are A.D.D./A.D.H.D. What a beautiful example of patience you are for your son and other children with similar struggles. I wish all parents were as conscientious in preparing their children and equipping them for the sacraments. The teacher cannot do it all in one hr a week. God bless you and Mark!

  8. Denise,

    What a wonderful and heart-warming story. Thanks for sharing it with me.

  9. Lee Ann Christy

    What a lovely story you have shared with us!! This made me WEEP with JOY!! I am a grandmother with an autistic/apraxic/sensory disorder LOVELY child in my home — and to see WHAT BLESSINGS can be accomplished — just brings me to my knees with HOPE!!! THANK YOU FOR SHARING .. and God Bless YOU AND MARK!

  10. Wow, God is so amazing and He knew exactly what he was doing when He gave Mark to you, Denise. It will never be easy but you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! Don’t you just love when that HOly Spirit comes in and makes all things just as they should be! Praise God!

  11. Thank you Cay, Lucy and Lee Ann!…Between my own experience what Theresa posted above about other autistic children and how it worked out for them, it just does my heart good Lee Ann, that these special children can partake fully in the life and sacraments of the church with the patience and love of adults helping them to do so. All things are possible!

  12. What an uplifting story and not surprising knowing Denise and her patience with all she has ever done. I feel so very blessed to have Denise in my life….she truly knows how to connect and relate to all those who love her…………and never forgets how important her Catholic faith is. My son had the pleasure of having her as his CCD instructor 21 years ago and as he prepares for his upcoming wedding he continues to know the importance of our Sacraments due to her positive influence!

    Mark is so very lucky to have such a wonderful Mom………….and entire family!

  13. This is a wonderful story. Thank you Denise for sharing it with us.

  14. Denise, Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story and Mark, congratulations on your special day. May God continue blessing your family.

  15. Nice job, Denise. A wonderful story! Mark is lucky he has you, my friend. And vice versa! 🙂

  16. Thank you Pam, Ellen, Rick and Kris! Appreciate your kinds words so much! 🙂

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