Delayed first communion for girl with autism leads to inclusion debate

In the end, young Ella was able to receive the First Holy Communion, but her case opened an opportunity to discuss the religious rights of non-neurotypical people in Malta.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Delayed first communion for girl with autism leads to inclusion debate - NewsMavens
First Communion, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

The parish priest refused to officially certify Ella Agius as having received Holy Communion after the girl was unable to swallow the communion wafer. When the girl's father went to receive the Communion certificate, the priest told him he could not “certify something that didn’t happen.”

The incident was followed by popular outcry, which resulted in a personal intervention by the Archbishop and an ongoing debate about the rights of people with behavioral difficulties to be assisted in religious services.

Ella's Communion poses various questions about inclusion in religion -- is the ritual really about the wafer, or about being the same as others?

As stated by the NGO for people with autism, mechanisms are already in place for addressing such cases -- perhaps they will be better known now.

Details from the story:

  • Having heard the news, Archbishop Charles Scicluna intervened and offered to personally celebrate Ella’s Holy Communion at her residence, where she would feel comfortable.
  • Autism Advisory Council said that there already systems in place, administered by the Archbishop’s Curia and managed by trained volunteers to offer families and persons with autism the possibility of receiving support during mass. The volunteers are trained in the Vatican.
  • Such cases are regulated by the "Inaestimabile Donum", the Vatican document on Communion and its adjustments.
  • The parish church was aware of Ella's case and the procedure -- Ella’s parents had informed the church that the child was not always able to swallow.
  • There are various initiatives in Malta to make the lives of children with autism less stressful -- from awareness campaigns to research and methodology.
  • Earlier this year, Vanessa Camilleri of the University of Malta and her team presented a virtual reality (VR) tool for teachers and learning support assistants to empathize with children with autism by experiencing sensory overload in a school setting.
  • The project, self-funded by the university department since 2016, offers an eye-opening opportunity for those who may struggle to understand how a person's capacity to respond shuts down in an over-stimulating environment.
  • There is a pilot project by the government and Hand in Hand, a company dedicated to offering programs that support children with behavior difficulty. It adapts the effective but expensive ABA programme for early intervention to make sure that children with autism develop as independently as possible.
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