“If you know God is with you, there is no need to be fearful”
They are children from a Catholic school, located in Chicago, but according to United Stand Director S Kim Marie Mis, CSSF what makes them most unique is that they are the first group of children in the regular Chicago Catholic schools who have welcomed an autistic child to their classroom.
Sister Kim explained that when the child arrived to his kindergarten class, he did not communicate through language. His family had noticed that he was different from their other children, so they approached their pediatrician to inquire what they should do. He told them that the boy didn’t need any type of intervention and would eventually develop as expected.
When it was time for the little non-speaking boy to be enrolled in school, the principal and the staff at the school, including the United Stand team of diagnosticians and counselors who serve the student population there, immediately recognized that the family had been misled in their pursuit of what would help their child.
As usual, God armed the United Stand team with precisely what was needed. Sister Kim said, “We had a bilingual intern at the site who was an expert in the autism spectrum disorders, so we were prepared to help on two counts. We could communicate with the Spanish-speaking family of the child and we understood the boy’s communication needs.”
Additionally, Sister Kim explained, when the autistic child was brought to their attention, United Stand was in the process of enabling schools and families to seek special education services for children who qualify under IDEA (Individual Disabilities Education Act).
“What this means in Chicago is that children with this range of needs can now stay within our Catholic School System and receive the services that they require such as learning disabilities support, speech and language, ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapy, and social work. These services are provided in a Catholic school, and it is no longer necessary to refer them to the public schools to obtain the actual needed services.
“United Stand has been working toward this opportunity for Catholic school children since 2002 when we conducted a study in the Chicago Catholic schools to obtain a profile of the children’s needs. The saddest part of the study occurred when we met with Catholic parents of children with special needs. Many of them sobbed openly as they told the story of how their child had been excluded from a Catholic school because it did not have the resources to serve him or her. This felt cruel and unjust to the parents. From that time on, together with the Office of Catholic Schools in Chicago, United Stand has put much of its energy into trying to make the Chicago Catholic School System a much more inclusive system, which welcomes children with this range of needs.
“We are sharing this with the sisters now because the tragedy at Sandy Hook could put our work at risk. It could make parents and schools more fearful of children with special needs and less willing to stay with us on our mission to stand with children with special needs and to support them in accessing their right to a Catholic education. Like Sister Celestine, we believe that if you know God is with you, there is no need to be fearful, but it can never hurt to enlist the prayerful support of our sisters.”