Autism · Catholic stuff · Uncategorized

First communion Social Story

When Rachel was preparing for her First Communion I created a couple tools to help her prepare.  The first tool we created was “Rachel’s Jesus Book” and the second was a social story about attending mass and receiving Communion.

Since Rachel was born she has attended religious services.  First in the LDS Church and then when she was about three we started attending Catholic Mass.  By the time Rachel was 9 we had been attending weekly mass in the same parish for about three years.  Mass wasn’t something new to Rachel.  The Jesus book was created to help her more fully understand the imagery in mass.

The social story was more a practical guild to receiving the Eucharist.   The order of the mass, how we receive and what it means.   I want to think that having the two separate books helped Rachel pin-point the Eucharist as the pinnacle of the mass.   Attending worship services as a community, the prayer of the mass, the divine liturgy are all very important, but they are nothing without the Body and Blood of Christ.

You can read some more of my thoughts on generally preparing your autistic child for first communion here.

Eucharist – As we believe that the Eucharist is in fact the body and blood of our Lord God and Savior the utmost reverence is called for – I don’t mean reverence in the sense of quiet awe (though that is very appropriate) I mean in the sense that receiving Christ in the Eucharist is a blessed and miraculous thing.   The Church has given us clear directions on who can receive and when.    She has also issued special instructions to help guild those charge with aiding and supporting  the spiritual lives of those with developmental disabilities.

From the document:  “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities

19. The eucharist is the most august sacrament, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered, and received, and by which the Church constantly lives and grows. It is the summit and the source of all Christian worship and life, signifying and effecting the unity of the people of God, providing spiritual nourishment for the recipient, and achieving the building up of the Body of Christ. The celebration of the eucharist is the center of the entire Christian life (Canon 897).

20. Parents, those who take the place of parents, and pastors are to see to it that children who have reached the use of reason are correctly prepared and are nourished by the eucharist as early as possible. Pastors are to be vigilant lest any children come to the Holy Banquet who have not reached the use of reason or whom they judge are not sufficiently disposed (Canon 914). It is important to note, however, that the criterion for reception of holy communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental 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. Pastors are encouraged to consult with parents, those who take the place of parents, diocesan personnel involved with disability issues, psychologists, religious educators, and other experts in making their judgment. If it is determined that a parishioner who is disabled is not ready to receive the sacrament, great care is to be taken in explaining the reasons for this decision. Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament. The existence of a disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from receiving the eucharist.

The need – Autism affects a person ability to communicate and understand abstract concepts.  Helping Rachel understand that God lovers her and most especially the Eucharist was receiving God were our main goals  in her sacramental preparation.  In fact those were the only goals.  I figured if Rachel had a even the most tenuous understanding that the Eucharist was God that she was well ahead of the game, she would at least understand as much as many adults (and more than many of our politicians 😉 )

Social Stories – Social stories are short, accurate accounts of real life situations that a person with development disabilities or social difficulties might find difficult to navigate successfully.  Rachel uses social stories in many areas of her life.  A few examples of the stories she has:  “Pinching is Naughty”,  “My Period”  the “Seat belts on the Bus”  social story.  The stories are straight forward, using simple words and bright pictures.  Many of the pictures in Rachel’s books are Mayer-Johnson Board maker images, but any simple line drawings can serve the same function as long as they depict the idea simply and clearly.

You can learn more about social stories here.

You can see text examples of social stories here

You can see a pictorial representation (really funny) of a social story and general thoughts on creating them here and here.

(please note, I am not recommending any of the services or items  on sites linked above.  They are offered as informational resources on the page linked)

Rachel’s mass book – Rachel’s first book was created to help her understand that mass was about Jesus and that Jesus loves Rachel very much.  I prayed and thought a good deal about how to get this through to her.  Then I found an image like this one and everything clicked:

Jesus and the Lamb
Jesus and the Lamb

Rachel happens to mean “ewe” or “Lamb” in Hebrew.  I had often called Rach “my little lamb” both because of her name and her curly blood hair.   We started with love.

<cover Jesus and the lamb>
Rachel’s Jesus Book

<pictures of parents>
Mommy and Daddy love Rachel.

<pictures of siblings>
(her siblings) love Rachel.

<pictures of grandparents>
(her grand parents) love Rachel.

<pictures of friends and teachers>
(friends and teachers) love Rachel.

<picture of Jesus with the lamb>
Jesus loves Rachel – Rachel is his little lamb.

<pictures of Jesus windows, crucifix, statues, paintings, monstrance>
We see Jesus at church.

<picture of church>
We go to mass because we love Jesus.

<action pictures>
We sing and we pray and we learn about Jesus.

<last supper picture cropped close in to focus on Jesus>
Long ago Jesus shared bread and wine with his friends. He said it was His Body and Blood.

<picture of the priest at the altar>
The priest gives us bread and wine at mass. He says it Jesus Body and Blood.

<communion action picture>
Then we share Jesus.

<leaving mass>
We remember Jesus loves us and we love each other.

This covered the basic of what we wanted Rachel to understand from the mass.  As I have written before Rachel’s behavior wasn’t ever really an issue while in mass.  If we had behavior problems in mass I think we would have created a social story to help her understand how she needed to act (like the Bus story about keeping her seat belt on).

The social story for her first communion was to help her understand how to receive in the context of the mass.  Speak to your priest and see if he will be willing to help you.  Take a camera to mass and snap pictures so your mass is represented.  This will be far more meaningful to your child.  Below is a sort of outline that you might use.

<picture of your child>
(name)’s Mass Book

<picture of going to church>
My family goes to mass.

<picture of sitting in pew>
We sit in the pew.

<Picture of standing to sing>
We stand together and sing

<Picture of your entrance>
Our priest comes to mass

<picture prayer>
We pray together

<picture of reading>
We listing to the reading.

<picture of homily>
We listen to (father ‘Joe’ or the priest) teach us about Jesus

<picture of child placing envelope in basket (if you do this, or singing or something meaningful to your child>
We offer our gifts to Jesus (or other appropriate statement)

<picture of your priest at the altar>
(father ‘Joe’ or the priest) blesses the bread and wine

<Picture of the Crucifix or other Jesus image>
The bread and wine  become Jesus

<Picture of waiting in line>
I wait my turn to receive communion  (you could also say Jesus, the Lord,  the Bread )

if your parish has one: <Picture of the communion rail>
I kneel at the rail

<Picture of someone receiving in the way customary to your parish>
The priest says “the body of Christ”  I say “Amen”.

I open my mouth {or} hold out my hand

The priest places the host (bread, Jesus’ body) on my tongue {or}  The priest places the  host (bread, Jesus’ body)in my hand.

Then I eat.

<picture of the chalice>

The priest offers me the cup.

I take a small sip.

<Picture of your child in the pew>
I go back to my pew and we pray.

I thank Jesus for loving me.

<Picture of the benediction>
After everyone has a turn to receive Jesus the priest blesses us.

<Picture of singing>
We sing a song

<Picture of leaving>
Then we leave.

Obviously you need to customize this to fit your child’s understanding and your parish.  We have a communion rail, commonly receive on the tongue and have several priests.  If your parish always has the same priest I would use his name “Father Joe” instead of “the priest”.   If you have Eucharistic ministers, a children’s dismissal   or other variances you would include them.

We didn’t make this a one time book for the first communion.  One reason was that Rachel’s first communion took place within the ordinary mass (along with her brother’s baptism that same mass) and it wasn’t too very different from a normal mass as far as the events and their sequence.   But you could easily modify the book to include things like “Today I have a new suit (or dress)”  “Today is a special day.” and turn it into a true “First Communion Social Story”

I hope this is useful to someone out there.  If you have any questions or idea, please leave a comment.

10 thoughts on “First communion Social Story

  1. Thank you! I was on line looking to see if a social story of a mass was out there to help me create on for my church and I happened upon yours! Plus it is very fitting because my daughter will be having first communion this year. Reconciliation was rough and a social story would have helped. Thank you!

    A mom of two Aspie girls!

  2. I have a family with a Down’s child age 10 mental age of 2. Any ideas how to insure that he can distinguish Eucharist from a cracker? Please we need help. They home school three other challenged kids too who have already received Communion.

  3. Thanks for the social story. I am trying to get ideas for my seven year old with Autism. He seems to understand that if is not food but he is fearful (although peculiarly Interested) . The only issue now which is a little humorous is that he thinks the hosts look like shiny game pieces which he calls ” disco chips” He has said loudly in the middle of mass, at the appropriate time of consecration: “The disco chips turned into Jesus” I think the literal minds of our Autistic children provide them faith that we are supposed to have.

  4. Thank you so much for these stories. They will help students in our Faith Formation classes. God Bless you. 🙂

  5. Hi I appreciate this page was written some time ago. The link here “You can read some more of my thoughts on generally preparing your autistic child for first communion here.” has stopped working and I would really like to read your thoughts on this. My 8 year old son is an Aspie and attends a special ed school. he is due to make FHC this academic year

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