The following is a press release from Carol Race. I found it in the "comments" section of the Autism Vox blog. It pertains to Adam Race, a young autistic man that has been forbidden by court order to attend mass at a Catholic church. I have XXXX-ed her telephone numbers out in the interests of privacy, but otherwise the document is unaltered save for some (enter) keys for a "cleaner" look.
This is a press release from Carol Race.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 17, 2008 Contact: Carol Race 218-XXX-XXXX
Mother of boy with autism barred from masscorrects statements from priest & Diocese
The Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s May 17 cover story featured Carol Race and family of Eagle Bend, Minnesota, with a 4-column headline reading “Church bars severely autistic boy from mass.” On May 9 the Races’ parish priest had taken out a restraining order against 13-year-old Adam, who has autism. This past Thursday Carol Race was issued a citation because she attended Mother’s Day mass with him.
Subsequent articles on the Races in newspapers, TV and radio also ran statements from the Diocese of St. Cloud on behalf of the Church of St. Joseph in Bertha. Race disagrees with Fr. Dan Walz’s second-hand descriptions, and wrote a counter statement explaining her son’s behaviors in the context of autism.
· The language in the restraining order reflects the view of a person who does not understand the symptoms of autism. Adam may be large and sometimes physical but he is not angry and violent, and does not spit in church. He exhibits characteristic traits common in people with autism, such as self-injurious behavior and meltdowns when facing sensory overload or when feeling overwhelmed.
· Fr. Walz used leading language, such as saying Adam has “urinated in church.” However my son did not publicly expose himself, as the term “urinate” implies. Adam has incontinence issues on rare occasion, and these have been thoroughly cleaned by the family. Young children also have accidents. No one knows how many seniors have “urinated in church” – all who do deserve privacy and dignity.
· Most of the time Adam can walk through a crowd of people in a patient and gentle way. And because our family leaves the church service early, there should not be anyone during these times to “bolt through.” At times Fr. Walz has refused requests to help our son get safely through the aisles.
· Fr. Walz unfairly describes Adam’s autistic behaviors as “disruptive.” Yet other children often cry or act out during mass for long periods of time. Visually, unless you sit in the back there is no disruption.
· Fr. Walz refers to Adam’s self-injurious behavior as “dangerous,” saying he “strikes himself in the head violently.” That shows no understanding, and offers no aid. Adam harms no one else physically.
· When people with autism feel stressed, they may like the sensation of weight or deep pressure to calm themselves. Therapists use weighted blankets and vests. Temple Grandin, PhD, who also has autism, designed a gentle squeeze machines for this purpose. Sitting on Adam’s lap or even his chest carefully on occasion gives him comfort during trying times, and also works to help restrain him during those times that he is melting down or feeling overwhelmed.
· Sometimes my husband and I need to restrict Adam’s movements to prevent him from hurting himself or his family who sit near him. Other families and school personnel are trained in safe restraint practices. My husband and I place a fleece strip (not rope) around either our son’s wrists or ankles. During these times he is not a danger to those seated around us. If we feel he may be momentarily out of control, we would ask those people to step aside for a few moments, but that would be rare.
· I do not recall any episode that could be described as such: “[V]ery recently he [Adam] bolted out and had to be tackled by his family. He battered his father as he was being restrained.” In fact, over the past two months, Adam has made almost no noises during church, he has been actually standing, sitting, and kneeling with the congregation. Adam has been attempting to make the sign of the cross, hold hands at the Our Father, offer the sign of peace with those around him, and generally participate like most other people at Mass who do not make the verbal responses.
· Regarding concerns about our foreign exchange daughter: Julia had been living in our home for six months. She accepted Adam and understood his ways. Fr. Walz misinterpreted the incident he described. Julia was standing near Adam because she preferred to be by him. In an attempt to socialize, or perhaps because she weighed just the right amount, Adam took her by the waist and showed her that he would like her to sit on his lap. She did so willingly, and with a smile on her face. It was an act of kindness on her part. I watched the situation very closely, as did my husband. There was nothing inappropriate about the way he touched her. He never grabbed her buttocks nor her thighs. Consequently we were very shocked to see that false statement in the restraining order. When Fr. Walz reported his version to the County, the report was ignored. The foreign exchange agency, ASA, has a policy of removing any student whenever there is an allegation of sexual abuse, regardless of whether or not it is substantiated. So Julia was removed against her will, against the local ASA rep’s will, and against her family’s wishes in Poland. Fr. Walz’s actions were scandalous to her faith, as well as to my children who loved their ASA sister dearly. I spoke with Rose Hawkins of ASA International, who is willing to answer any questions about Julia. Her phone is 320-XXX-XXXX.
· From mid-June 2007 to present no special accommodations for Adam have been offered to our family, except to watch mass on the basement TV for an indefinite time. Adam has attended mass with the congregation all his life. Changing the routine of someone with autism is not only painful for them, but takes time and effort and in this particular situation would likely result in worse behavior problems.
· The priest, Fr. Dan Walz, refused to discuss our family’s situation with anyone trained in autism, including a behavioral consultant hired by the parents specifically to help with accommodations for mass. This well-known and experienced behavioral consultant wrote a three-page report with many suggestions; however it was ignored. Fr. Walz also refused to speak with a county social worker who tried to help the parish find reasonable accommodations for Adam’s continued inclusion.
· The worst of Adam’s behaviors resulted from lack of accommodations or cooperative discussions. Case in point: The car-revving incident. Normally our family left Church before the closing song, which would allowed three minutes before the congregation left. During Lent, Fr. Walz omitted the closing song and failed to ask the congregation to wait to leave until our family had left first.
· Fr. Walz refused mediation through a local Protestant minister. He refused it unless his only option – Adam not attending Mass – was on the table. I believe that over the past 11 months Fr. Walz lobbied both parish and diocese to approve his plan to bar Adam from Mass. A March 3, 2008 letter through the diocesan Tribunal office stated: “For mediation to take place, however, all things must be on the table to be discussed. This means that the issue of taking Adam out of Mass must remain open.”
· Fr. Walz’s goal is clear: “I have made repeated efforts through the Catholic Education Ministries, Caritas Family Services and, most recently, sought to try and mediate the matter with the family TO ASK THEM TO VOLUNTARILY NOT BRING ADAM TO CHURCH, but to no avail (emphasis mine). He admits he made no attempts to accommodate for the purposes of inclusion during this process.
· Fr. Dan claims to have contacted the parish insurer. However I have never seen an actual letter from the insurer nor have the two parish trustees been presented with a copy. Fr. Dan claims it was attached to the RO, however I asked at the court house for it, and they said they don’t have it, either.
· Canon Law which Fr. Dan quotes has to be interpreted in light of Church doctrine. Church doctrine does not exclude any individual from participation in mass except those who have been “excommunicated” after proper canonical procedure has been followed.
· Neither the bishop nor the Vicar General have attempted to discuss Adam’s behaviors with the Races; they are relying solely on statements made by Fr. Walz.
“It is shocking that with Adam’s sustained and dramatically improved behavior that the restraining order would come at this time,” Race concluded. She hopes that increased public awareness will lead to improved understanding of people with autism, social justice, and maximized spiritual inclusion.