Our son with intellectual and developmental disabilities accepted Jesus as his Savior when he was 8 years old during our Easter devotions at home. He grew up in the church, and he understood the significance of the communion service. He really desired to partake, but just couldn’t bring himself to because of his severe sensory issues. The red grape juice and the matzo bread our church used just weren’t something he could put in his mouth without his gag reflex kicking in.
Since his desire to partake was high, I decided to do a little food replacement and see what happened. As the communion elements were passed, I pulled out a goldfish cracker instead of the matzo bread. I brought a little apple juice bottle with me, quickly drinking the red grape juice and filling his cup with apple juice. Success! It was meaningful to my son, and no one sitting around us seemed to notice or care that he was taking communion differently than everyone else.
Over the years, I replaced the goldfish cracker with a piece of saltine, and then eventually he was able to eat the matzo. I gradually replaced the apple juice with white grape juice until he was able and willing to drink the red grape juice that was offered. Success!
Now on to the baptism challenge. Our son has a horrible aversion to water. His daily shower is tolerated, but never enjoyed. As we discussed baptism with him, he did not want to be immersed, sprinkled, or dabbed with water in any way, shape, or form. After much prayer, we decided that the purpose of baptism was to make a public confession of faith. Could our son do this without the actual water?
We discussed this with our church board of elders, and they agreed that a public confession of faith without the baptismal waters would be an acceptable accommodation for our son. So, on the same day that others in our church were baptized, our son went in front of the church body and answered questions in a “yes” format regarding his faith. It was a meaningful step on his faith journey, and frankly, in the life our church family as well, knowing that including everyone meant finding acceptable ways to do some things differently.
I would love to hear from others affected by special needs to hear how the rites of communion and baptism have happened for you. Were accommodations made? Did you use social stories to prepare? How did the congregation respond? Make a comment below so we can share the different ways every one can be included in following the Lord in communion and baptism.