Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sister Mary Katherine

Katie has spent the last few weeks attending summer catechism.  It is an intense 3 week session that completes an entire year of catechism classes.  Katie has been attending catechism classes since she was young, and always seemed to enjoy them and learn from them, but not nearly as much as she has absolutely loved this summer session.  I don't know if it the constant repitition of the daily Mass, or the building on the concepts from the day before instead of the week before, but she is soaking it all in.  She loves the teacher, loves her classmates, loves the prayers, and especially loves the snack break.

I was doing the dishes last week, and Katie was all over me.  Every time I turned around, there she was.  I finally told her to get out of the kitchen so I could get my work done and she said, "But mom, I am trying to help you. And I learned at church that I am not too young to serve the Lord."  I almost fell over when she said that.  First of all, it was the cutest thing ever.  Second of all, it showed me that not only is she learning the lesson, but also understanding how it fits into daily life.  For me that is the hardest part.  I teach catechism to a much younger grade, and it is very difficult to translate the lesson into the "every day".  It is one thing to read a chapter, answer some questions, and learn a prayer.  It is a much more difficult chore to look at that concept and say, "what does this mean to me?"  And with Katie being autistic, abstract concepts are one of the hardest things for her to interpret.  Literal topics, and facts, are much easier for her to handle. 

A few days later, Katie was down the basement "talking to her friends", and I needed her to come upstairs for dinner.  I yelled down to her to come up and she says, "Mom, I am reading the Gospels!"  How can you help not smiling a little at that, or even tearing up.  It is amazing to me how she has embraced her religion.  It got me to thinking.  I wonder why religion is so easy for most individuals with cognitive and neurological issues.  Have you ever seen how devote people with Downs Syndrome can be?  They are the biggest believers out there.  They don't question religion, or make a fuss about going to church.  They are the first in line to go worship.  They know all the prayers, all the gestures, all the traditions.  They love God without apology or embarrassment or hesitation.  That is also true for the few Autitic people I have seen in the religious setting.  When I look at it logically, I would assume that anyone with any kind of cognitive disablity would struggle with religion because it isn't black and white.  It can't be proven.  It cannot be explained completely by any one person.  Faith is hard.  "Regular" people who are highly intelligent can have a difficult time with it.

Going to church with Katie is another experience in itself.  She knows all of the responses (and does them loudly), sings all the songs (loudly), and runs up to get communion.  I have been working with her this summer on being more reverant, but do I really want to curttail her enthusiam for the Mass?  Or am I doing this so I am not embarrassed when the other members turn and stare?  I have learned over the years to not worry about what other people think of Katie.  It is their problem if they think she is weird or strange.  I need to be proud of her and encourage her to be as loving in her faith as she is.  I have, in the past, explained to people sitting around me that she is Autistic.  I don't do this because I have to, or because I am apologizing for her, but so they understand that she isn't being rude or disrespectful.  I have turned many evil stares into a "God Bless You" when I have shook hands and said to them, "I hope my daughter isn't disturbing you.  She is Autitic, and she really gets into the service."  That way that person can go home feeling like they witnessed something beautiful, instead of going home angry, thinking that a child was misbehaving and not being disaplined for it.  Sometimes a few simple words can make all the difference in the world.

My family says a prayer before eating dinner, and my girls say a prayer with me before bed each night, but those are more rehearsed and memorized prayers.  I walked into Katie's room to find her with her eyes closed. "Mom, I am praying to God."  As she sat there with her little hands folded and eyes shut tight, I joked to my husband that she was going to be the first Autistic nun,  so I nicknamend her "Sister Mary Katherine".  Now, every time she quotes a lesson from catechism, or is telling her pretend friends about the Gospels, I call her that.  I never thought that our Adventures in Autism would be our ticket into heaven.

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