"No one should be denied the opportunity to learn about their faith or receive the sacraments."
When I was in college, I signed up to volunteer as a catechist at a parish near my campus. I was assigned to be the personal tutor to a little girl with Down syndrome. She was in second grade and the parish was hoping that one-on-one instruction would help her get ready for First Holy Communion.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, not having any teaching experience, but I read through the religion textbook with her and we talked about what we’d read. I did my best to joyfully share the faith with her and enjoy our weekly time together.
Looking back, I was pretty ill-equipped to teach her. I wish I’d had access to a religious education program designed for kids with special needs. It would have made sessions more fruitful for both of us. But nothing like that existed at the time, at least not that I or anyone at that parish knew about.
Fortunately, a new religious education program is currently in development specifically designed to serve children with special needs.
Kelly Mantoan is the Catholic mom and writer spearheading the curriculum, called “Accepting the Gift.” She is the author ofBetter Than OK: Finding Joy as a Special Needs Parent, a blogger at This Ain’t the Lyceum, and mother of five. Her two youngest sons have a rare neuromuscular disorder known as spinal muscular atrophy.
The curriculum was written by educator Amanda DeBroeck and is available to download here. The January books are available for free and the ones for February can be previewed before purchasing.
Kelly first created Accepting the Gift as a one-day conference for Catholic special needs parents when she could not find existing conferences specifically for Catholic parents.
“After the event wrapped up, I realized Catholic special needs parents really needed more than just a one day, once a year event,” she said in an interview. “So while I was in the hospital with my youngest son as he recovered from pneumonia, I set up a new website, emailed some potential collaborators, and started Accepting the Gift as an apostolate.”
I recently had the chance to ask Kelly all about the new curriculum she’s developing. Here’s our conversation…
What inspired you to create the Accepting the Gift curriculum?
I have heard from many special needs parents that their children are either being flat-out denied the sacraments, or that their parish is willing to administer the sacraments but doesn’t know how to prepare the child, so they let the parents know, “Whatever you can teach him or her on your own is fine.” In each case, the parish isn’t sure how to meet the unique needs of the child and the family is left to figure out a solution on their own.
While I always advise parents to try to work with the parish so that their child can receive catechesis like any other child, sometimes it’s just not possible. The Accepting the Gift Curriculum is here to fill in the gaps for parents who don’t have any other means for their special needs children to be catechized. It may also be the first choice for families who prefer to homeschool their special needs child for whatever reason.
What makes it different from other religious education programs currently available?
It’s a year-round program, so you’re focused on the saints for each month, while also learning about all the basics of the faith. It can be used over one or two years, so the pace is flexible.
It’s not a test-based curriculum; it’s created so children can experience each concept through hands-on activities with a parent or even a sibling. Parents can repeat the activities as many times as they need to help their child make a connection to the material.
Who is the target audience for Accepting the Gift?
It could be used to prepare a child for First Holy Communion, so as young as five or six, but it can also be used with much older intellectually delayed teens who want to prepare for Confirmation.
What grades are available?
The program doesn’t have grade levels. It covers many main tenets of the faith and can be used with children and teens of various ages depending on their abilities.
Not every child will be able to memorize the Baltimore Catechism or read the Summa Theologica, but we can make sure that all children are exposed to the basic truths of the Catholic Church in an approachable way.
No one should be denied the opportunity to learn about their faith or receive the sacraments.
What is the most important thing you want to share about Accepting the Gift?
Accepting the Gift exists to help parents accept the gift of a disabled child. If you are a special-needs parent and feel hopeless or despairing, or know another family who feels this way, I invite you to check out our website and connect with other parents who have walked this path and who have learned how to not only accept, but embrace, their unique vocation.
We can help parents find the joy in life again, even when their child has been diagnosed with a devastating medical condition. Our members and contributors know the physical, mental and spiritual struggles first-hand and want to share their experiences to help others.