19 May 2008
Church Files Restraining Order Against 13-Year-Old Boy With Autism
I am feeling sickened by this article on ABC News, about a 13 year old boy named Adam Race. The article is well-written and provides a balanced view of the issue. Adam has autism. He is also a big lad-six feet tall and 220 pounds. His family of seven attends Catholic church services every Sunday. They sit in the last row or the "cry room" (I guess this is where you take your crying baby during services). They leave during the last song so that they don't have any contact with others. Despite all this, the head priest at their Bertha, Minnesota church has filed a restraining order against Adam which proclaims that he may not enter the church.
Let's look at the facts. The church claims: Adam spits, "struck a child", urinates in church (excluding someone due to an incontinence problem is outlandish, not to mention very hurtful), fights when he is restrained, his parents "tie him up and sit on him", and he "assaulted a girl by pulling her onto his lap and, during Easter mass, ran to the parking lot and got into two vehicles, starting them and revving the engine." In response, his parents claim that he doesn't spit. They stated that soft fabric restraints, the sound of a car's engine, and the weight of someone sitting on him help to calm Adam down. His "urinating in church" is a bladder control issue, similar to young children, the elderly, and some people with disabilities.
To me it sounds like Adam is a boy whose family want to worship together and are willing to adapt their routine to make it possible. Sitting with the rest of the parishioners isn't feasible because that is uncomfortable for Adam and disruptive to the service. Sitting in the back may not be the answer either.
It is 100% true that the church cannot condone an unsafe environment for its worshipers, especially children and the elderly. That being said, I think that people fear autism because they don't understand it. Do some autistic people use physical aggression? Yes. Do some not-autistic people use physical aggression? Yes! The fact of his size and the fact of his disability should not automatically equal a year-long legal ban from church. He has not in fact hurt anyone at his church.
In addition, there are hundreds of things the family and the church could try to create a safe and comfortable environment for all. For example: there is a room to take crying babies where people can continue to follow the service. Have another room ready for Adam and his parents when he cannot stay in the main area of worship. Maybe Adam could have a buddy, a big high school football player to volunteer to help supervise him. Maybe Adam's religious leaders could extend themselves to his family to help them get the resources they need to help Adam with his behavior. I could go on brainstorming all day! Rather than work with this boy and his family, the church (which this boy has attended ALL OF HIS LIFE) has taken legal measures to exclude him.
The ADA probably factors in here at some point, but even before that, shouldn't a religious leader be able to extend a little bit of COMMON HUMAN DECENCY to this boy? Shame on you, Reverend Daniel Walz.
The NCPD and CAPD are two groups that provide information relating to Catholicism and disability. There are many resources these priests could have gone to for guidance.
Darcee at Simply Catholic, parent of a child with autism, lists some resources for parents and religious leaders about embracing people with disabilities in religion. Here's her take on this story. Other religions have similar resources that are particular to their practices--google it!
What's your take on this story?
(Note: I am not a Catholic, but I am religious and I strongly believe that individuals with cognitive disabilities should have the freedom to participate in a religious community however they choose. My own house of worship offers all religious services for free online via live webcam, which is beneficial for people with illness or disability that limits their travel.)