By Barb Arland-Fye
Three well-worn road atlases and one lector’s workbook lie open on my son Colin’s bed, providing a clue to his interests. Even before moving into an apartment 5-1/2 years ago, he loved to read atlases and each year’s edition of my “Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers and Proclaimers of the Word.”
He now has a collection of older editions that he keeps close at hand.
Pondering the divergent reading interests of this young man with autism on Mother’s Day, when I saw the books in their usual spot, I considered their contents. The atlases contain numbers and cities, both of which fascinate Colin. The lector’s workbook has Scripture readings dated for the Sunday on which they are to be read. He loves the liturgy and he loves dates, so his appreciation for the workbook makes sense. But mother’s intuition says there’s got to be something more to it.
Although I’ve been his mother for the 24 years he’s been on this earth, I still haven’t figured out how Colin’s mind works. My husband Steve was out of town, so I called him and asked for his thoughts.
“Maps have a pattern to them. You look at a road and see how it’s drawn. I used to draw fake cities with interstates when I was a kid because I liked to look at the patterns, the way a road curves,” Steve said. Patterns would be very comforting to a person with autism, we both know. And the search for locations probably keeps Colin’s mind engaged. He’s always loved the idea of a destination — anticipating going somewhere — but then losing interest once he’s arrived.
Steve thinks Colin loves reading the lector’s workbook because it gives him a connection to the Catholic Church, which is one of the anchors in his life. The Church provides rituals and traditions — things that don’t change — which give Colin the equilibrium he craves. The lector’s workbook follows the Church’s liturgical cycle and offers interpretations for lectors to be better prepared to read during Mass. The workbook also allows Colin to know what’s up ahead, what Gospel Father Joe (Wolf) will be proclaiming the following Sunday.
Colin had the opportunity to do a reading from Scripture during a Special Faith Saturdays Mass at St. Ann Church in Long Grove this past March. He enjoyed that experience tremendously and asked me if he could do the readings for Palm Sunday. Maybe in the future, I said.
Getting Colin involved in service in our parish, like the rest of our family, is a goal, but one that will require creativity and awareness of his special needs.
I am encouraged by the efforts underway in the Davenport Diocese and at the National Catholic Partnership on Disability to consider the spiritual needs of people like Colin. A news release on the partnership’s website states:
“Autism spectrum disorder is the fastest growing significant disability in the U.S., with as many as one in every 110 children now identified with this disorder, making it an increasingly pressing need that ministry resources be developed.”
But the partnership recognizes the needs of parishes being asked “to serve those whom you feel unequipped to serve, and that is why we exist, to help provide support and resources to parishes and dioceses across the United States,” said Nancy Thompson, NCPD Director of Programs and Diocesan Relations. She’s also a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City.
Earlier this decade, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to serving people with disabilities. “We must recognize and appreciate the contribution persons with disabilities can make to the Church’s spiritual life, and encourage them to do the Lord’s work in the world according to their God-given talents and capacity,” the bishops said.
Our family will continue to encourage Colin in his reading as we explore opportunities for him to serve.