Sacraments for Persons with Special Needs
My grandson has autism. Can he still have his First Communion and other sacraments?
Yes. Individuals who have special needs are not excluded from the sacraments. Most dioceses have programs called Special Religious Education (SPRED) programs for individuals who have special needs.
The USCCB's Guidelines for the Celebration of Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities states:
Persons who because of intellectual or developmental disabilities may never attain the use of reason can receive the sacrament of confirmation and should be encouraged either directly or, if necessary, through their parents, to receive it. It is important that they receive the pastoral guidance needed, along with the welcome and embrace of the whole community of faith. To the degree possible, those with disabilities should be included along with others during the preparation and celebration of the sacrament. At times, pastoral need may necessitate an accommodated setting and a simpler manner (8).
It is important to note, however, that the criterion for reception of Holy Communion is the same for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities as for all persons—namely, that the person be able to “distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food,” even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture, or reverential silence rather than verbally. . . . The existence of a disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from receiving Holy Communion (22).