On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis vocalized his support for Catholics with disabilities and suggested all Catholic parishes make efforts to become more inclusive. The pope insisted that all Catholics with disabilities have the right to receive the sacraments and train and serve as catechists. Parents of children with disabilities need to take time to understand their child’s condition and find a welcoming church to help them thrive in all areas of life.

Making parishes fully accessible

“Creating a fully accessible parish requires not only the removal of architectural barriers but above all, helping parishioners to develop attitudes and acts of solidarity and service toward persons with disabilities and their families,” the pope said. “Our aim should be to speak no longer about ‘them,’ but rather about ‘us’.” He suggested that all priests, seminarians, and catechists be educated about disabilities and use inclusive pastoral tools. “Before all else, I strongly reaffirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments, like all other members of the church. All liturgical celebrations in the parish should be accessible to them so that, together with their brothers and sisters, each of them can deepen, celebrate and live their faith.”

Understanding your child’s disability

Although having a child diagnosed with a disability can be daunting for parents, it’s important to consider the question of myth vs. fact when it comes to your child’s condition. For example, a cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders typically affecting movement and coordination. Although it often involves learning difficulties, many people with this condition have average or above-average intelligence and attend the same schools as their peers – yet many people believe that learning difficulties are part and parcel of the condition. Similarly, many parents don’t initially realize that as many as over half of people with cerebral palsy can walk independently without a wheelchair. If you’re concerned about your child’s development but haven’t yet received a diagnosis, consult with your doctor and you’ll be referred to a specialist if necessary.

Finding a welcoming church

Over half of special needs parents say their child with a disability has been excluded at church. Its important parents find a church that welcomes and involves all Catholics with disabilities. For example, an inclusive church should ask you about the support your child needs, speak with your child directly and offer to sit with or watch them. Inclusive churches should also offer continued support during times of crisis.

Children with disabilities experience unique challenges in life. With the support of a fully accessible parish, Catholic parents can better give their children the love and encouragement they need to thrive.