For Directors of Faith Formation, Directors of Religious Education, and Confirmation Coordinators, the liturgical celebrations of First Holy Communion and Confirmation are quickly approaching. Here are a few tips Directors and/or Coordinators can implement to better support and include families with disabilities or neurodivergent members:
1. Communicate early and often.
Early and clear communication via email, the bulletin, text messages, etc. about the details and logistics of the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation is key for a few reasons:
- families have time to ask follow up questions and communicate what accommodations their family might need to be included in the celebration
- for families who need it, knowing what to anticipate helps them better prepare, set expectations, and practice with their family member who will be receiving the Sacrament
- and families who have one or more members with a disability or who are neurodivergent often have additional doctor and therapy appointments than typical families, so communicating early and sending reminders more frequently can help families better manage complex or hectic schedules.
2. Be flexible with dress codes.
Some students have sensory processing differences that can make more formal clothing not just uncomfortable, but downright painful or dysregulating. Most directors/coordinators I know would be flexible with attire for the celebration if a family came to them about their child’s sensory challenges. However, directors/coordinators can create an atmosphere of welcome by mentioning flexibility within the dress code for Sacramental celebrations for those with sensory differences and an invitation to discuss with the director/coordinator in advance (see point 1 above).
3. Implement sensory-friendly and disability inclusive strategies.
There are several ways to make Mass more sensory friendly and disability inclusive. Which strategies you implement could range from all of the possible suggestions below and beyond (these are not exhaustive resources/ideas), to just the strategies you know your students and their families would find most helpful. Ideas and resources:
- Tips for a sensory-friendly Mass can be found at the end of our article on the importance of inclusive Masses, “It Starts with Mass.”
- This video by Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC provides advice for offering a sensory-friendly Mass. Fr. Schneider is an autistic priest doing some great advocacy and education work in autism and the Church.
- Side note: you can also find his directory of sensory-friendly Masses on his website. Add your parish to the directory if you offer a sensory-friendly Mass or contact parishes already offering sensory-friendly Masses for advice and guidance.
- Make programs more visually accessible by using simple fonts, larger text (at least slightly larger), and simple layouts.
- Work with families to create/offer visual stories and/or visual schedules of the Mass for First Holy Communion and/or Confirmation (see the article, “It Starts with Mass,” linked above for ideas and resources).
This isn’t an exhaustive list for offering inclusive and welcoming celebrations of the Sacraments of Initiation, but should provide a solid foundation. Listening, empathy, creativity, and flexibility on our part as directors/coordinators are fantastic tools to use to proactively welcome and include students and families who are disabled and neurodivergent this “Sacramental season” (and every year after). What additional tips or advice would you add?
If you have questions or would like a consultation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.