Sunday, May 18, 2008


A recent article in the Star Tribune, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, speaks to a problem that is far too common: a problem of interest to all families of autistic individuals.

The Race family in St. Cloud, Minnesota attends church services, Mass at the local Catholic parish in their case, as a family. Their family includes 13-year old Adam. Adam is autistic.

In 2005, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud presented Carol Race, Adam’s mother, with an award, recognizing:
. . . her efforts to encourage families with disabled children to attend mass, she said. The award cited her “untiring efforts ... to educate and advocate for others who have children with disruptive disabilities such as autism and seek to participate as a total family at Sunday mass.”

What a difference a couple of years makes.

Last summer, their parish priest, the Rev. Daniel Walz, appeared at the Race’s doorstep with a temporary restraining order, intended to keep Adam away from services at the church.
It is beyond ironic that the Church, which adamantly would resist the jurisdiction of civil courts on issues of internal governance, seems to have no problem turning to those same civil courts when trying to add a little oomph to its internal decrees.

Carol Race was, to say the least, perturbed at the lack of understanding on the part of Father Walz:
“He said that we did not discipline our son. He said that our son was physically out of control and a danger to everyone at church,” she said. “I can’t discipline him out of his autism, and I think that’s what our priest is expecting.”

The Race family defied the order, and they are likewise defying a permanent restraining order that was issued. They continue to attend Mass as a family, doing their best to keep Adam’s occasional meltdowns under control. They have asked the Diocese to rescind the order, but the only response was a release described in the Star Tribune article:
A statement released by the Diocese of St. Cloud said the church filed the petition “as a last resort out of a growing concern for the safety of parishioners and other community members due to disruptive and violent behavior on the part of that child.”

“That child,” as the Diocese calls Adam, is as much a child of God as anyone who joins others to worship.

In the article, Rev. Walz describes the nature of the problems Adam’s behavior raises. It also provides the Race’s explanation of those behaviors. The family’s explanation has the ring of truth for anyone who has spent time around an autistic youngster, or who has taken the time to try and understand.

Could Adam’s parents have handled some of the “disturbances” in a better way? Maybe, but I’m not ready to make that call when I don’t know the complete background. One thing is sure, however; taking the Race family to court will not bring anyone ⎯ not the Race family, not the other parishioners, and certainly not Father Walz ⎯ any closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Adam's parents must deal with him all on their own. He is too much to handle for the Doctors, he is too much to handle for the church, but yet, it is expected that the two of them, alone, should deal with him somehow.

Society did this to him. Our society did this for their own perceived benefit. He had to have his shots so that they could be kept safe, so they said.

Now, obviously society feels that they owe him and his parents nothing. This is how the pharmaceutical industry sees it. This is how the insurance companies see it. This is how the government health care bureaucracies see it. This is how the taxpayers who support the public care bureaucrcies see it.

Why should the church be any different?

People are people no matter where you go--this is what my husband has told me.

5/18/08, 9:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is a shame. I can understand that there's challenges for Adam as well as for the rest of the parishioners. Letting things deteriorate to the point of a using a restraining order, is an indication that someone (or both parties) has lost sight of what drove them to be part of the church in the first place.

The Connecticut chapter of the ASA has developed a program for "faith communities" that is designed to foster a healthy involvement of autistic individuals with their religious community. There is certainly a need for such programs. Churches typically don't have the experience with individuals with special needs that we've come to expect from our schools and families. They have a lot of catching up to do.

5/18/08, 11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Autism is easier to deal with than most people would believe. The key to understanding how the autistic mind works is to learn how autistics think.

There are free podcasts available to people out there that can help. They have done much to elucidate the ignorant. Midnight In Chicago publishes them and they can be found at .

5/19/08, 1:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I had a brother much like Adam, as he got older there was less help and support out there. We were told over and over again to put him in an institution. Dispite his "melt downs" he was a person, he wanted out of life only what any adult man wanted. His own home, job, life! We were able to achieve this!

A book has just been published that is a must read for these people. It will give hope, show you what worked for us and what didn't, but what didn't work for us could work for you! It can be purchased at Title is "Safely Home: A profile of a futures planning group". By Betty Atherton & Julie Shaw Cole.

Some of Raymond's group members were pioneers in the new concepts of futures planning and supported living in Kentucky. With determination and a delicate sense of timing, they worked together with Betty and family to make Raymonds dreams real.

9/12/08, 5:28 PM  

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