N.I.C.E. Meets Special Needs

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by Amy Ballanco and Frances Ferraro

Catechetical leaders and catechists build their parish religious education programs to meet the needs of all children, including those with special needs. The National Directory for Catechesis tells us that “each person with a disability has catechetical needs that the Christian community must recognize and meet. All baptized persons with disabilities have a right to adequate catechesis and deserve the means to develop a relationship with God” (n. 49). The General Directory for Catechesis states that “every person, however limited, is capable of growth in holiness” (n. 189). Our response as a parish is to learn about the specific needs of all children and to offer support and welcome to families.

The N.I.C.E. Program

Children with special needs often require a more personalized catechesis. Family involvement is essential to the spiritual, mental, and physical development of the child. To this end, our parish has developed the Needs in Catholic Education (N.I.C.E.) program to welcome these children and their families and to provide them with opportunities to enrich their family faith life and fully participate in the gift of the Mass.

The N.I.C.E. program includes Liturgy of the Word for Special Needs, which shares the Word of God through music, games, story, and simple crafts, and also assists in preparing each child to celebrate the Sacraments. Through this program, families experience the joy of seeing their children participate more fully in the Mass and receive their First Penance, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Families also develop a strong network of other caring families and support from their pastor and their parish community.

Getting Started

To get started, place an announcement about the N.I.C.E. program in your parish bulletin. Encourage interested parties to bring others they know who are also members of your parish family to participate in the program.

Use confidential registration forms that ask questions about the child’s specific special needs.  Encourage families to provide detailed information about the child’s likes and dislikes (i.e., likes to sing, doesn’t like crafts, can’t sit still for long periods of time) and any impulsive or repetitive behaviors the child may exhibit (i.e., shouting, rocking back and forth). Assure families that every measure will be taken to respect and respond appropriately to all behaviors during the sessions.

Encourage families to gather for Mass in a reserved area that is closest to where they’ll be exiting. Bottom of Form

We’ve found it helps families to know they have a reserved seat upon entering the church and upon their return from the sessions. It also builds awareness among others at Mass that the parish religious education program includes all the children and all the families of the parish.

After the Opening Prayer, quietly direct the families to a separate room or area where the Word of God is shared through music, games, stories, and simple crafts within a short period of time (perhaps 20 minutes). Direct the group to return to church before the Offertory to continue in the participation of the Mass with their parish community.

We are one flock under the care of one shepherd; we are fellow travelers on the road to a common destination. As Jesus’ servants of unity, we join our voices with his as it is expressed in John’s Gospel: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us” (John 17:21).

Amy Ballanco and Frances Ferraro serve in the religious education program of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Park Ridge, NJ. Amy Ballanco is the Director of Religious Education and is responsible for the development and implementation of the N.I.C.E. program. Frances Ferraro is a catechist of children in grades first through sixth. She assists with catch-up catechesis (working with children who have gaps in their religious education) and is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, June 2014.


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