The importance of families
July 18, 2017
Catholic women teachers celebrate 
July 18, 2017

Making a space for everyone

Zahra and Mary

Zahra and Mary

“Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.” Pope Francis, January 2017

“Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.” Pope Francis, January 2017

Parents have long been considered bearers of good news for their children. As the ‘primary educators’, they are entrusted with the task of meeting the needs of their children, and helping them towards the full development that is their calling from God.

In the promotion of inclusion for the raising of their children, parents also stand out as the heroes – those parents who will see in their children the humanity, beauty and abilities that others often dismiss, often not looking beyond the difference from what we, including professionals, label as ‘normal development’. We must celebrate those parents who, as bearers of the good news even in the face of tremendous adversity, would not give up on their children and the hope that enough people will listen so that their children’s needs can be met.

I am happy to recognise Mary Bastien as one of those heroic parents. In a society where it is politically correct for leaders to speak of inclusion while ignoring the basic resources needed to ensure this ideal, Mary’s decision to speak out continues to demand courage. Mary’s fear of rejection is superseded by her desire to contribute to developing an environment in which her eight-year-old daughter, Zahra and other children like her can grow and be happy.

International statistics (WHO) suggest that approximately 15 per cent of our population might be living with some form of disability. That is a pretty high number of persons who are often invisible to the rest of the population. While many disabilities may not be apparent to the average person, often referred to as ‘hidden disabilities’, it should be unacceptable that parents’ embarrassment/fear of the reaction of other people, lack of facilities and resources to meet their needs should prevent many children and young people from being seen in our mainstream settings including the Church. Where are the children and what do we need to have in place to make them feel welcome, that our connection is being human together with God as Our Father?

Mary, a strong advocate for inclusion of children and young persons with different challenges within the mainstream environment, has not given up faith and hope that this is possible. Inclusion of the differently abled/disabled can become more visible not only in her own church community but also across our Archdiocese.

“People will always be uncomfortable with difference and essentially there is no problem with that,” Mary noted. “But if we want to shift the position – that comfort level – we cannot keep pushing a position where we compartmentalise persons.”

From birth, Zahra has attended Mass regularly with her mother. She has multiple disabilities that notably affect her speech, physical development, and development of her cognitive abilities. With her mother’s care, support and encouragement, she is a happy child who is responsive when engaged by what is happening around her. Zahra seems willing to communicate, moving her arms, smiling, and making attempts at speech that attract attention. However, Mary has noted that persons speaking with her often ignore Zahra.

It seems that preparation for the sacraments e.g. First Communion has an increasingly heavy cognitive component, making it unlikely for Zahra to ever receive the sacraments. Mary recognises such preparation may be happening within small groups but wonders why it cannot be done at the level of the parish.

Zahra is pushed around in a wheelchair and therefore getting out of the car demands extra space. Mary noted that the spaces identified as ‘Disabled Parking’, need to be larger to accommodate someone being taken out from the vehicle but this is not always the reality. She questions the number of adjustments that parents of differently abled/disabled persons often find too difficult and wonders whether, in many cases, other arrangements can be made e.g. in the way the church is organised to accommodate seating for persons with wheelchairs at different positions in the church.

The most obvious challenge for parents with disabled children may however also be the reaction of persons to difference as it relates to the appearance and behaviour of others. How much patience are we willing to exercise e.g. waiting for a person with a wheelchair to get out of their vehicle or to fit into a pew, accepting crying from babies or unexpected behaviour or vocals from a child or young person? Mary recognises that her daughter gets very excited by the singing and will take some time to settle down after it ends. Lack of awareness and understanding from other parishioners can contribute to the decision many parents with differently abled/disabled children make to forego attendance at Mass.

Mary is somewhat impatient that despite the hard work of so many NGOs, this has not resulted in the level of information sharing where persons are well-educated and become more tolerant of differences in our shared social environment. The support that a large enough portion of our population need cannot be a secret from the rest of us.

The Church, Mary thinks, needs to create a space for everyone, highlighting a philosophy related to the range of issues in which differences are significant – physical, behavioural issues, learning issues etc “Looking at the range of realities before us, we need to try to deal with those realities without separating people.”

“If we talk inclusive, we can’t keep sending mixed messages…” Mary insists.

We conclude this stage of the conversation next week. God bless.

Dr Maraika Gooding is an educational and child psychologist. Her email:
decpmg@gmail.com





 

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