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Parish religious ed programs work to meet students' special needs


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BRAINTREE -- As her son was nearing First Communion age, Cara Proulx enrolled him in her parish's religious education program, which she was sure could meet his needs.

Her son, Taylor, now 12, has autism and is unable to communicate verbally.

Taylor was enrolled in the special needs religious education class at St. Michael Parish in Bedford, and received his First Holy Communion at age 8.

Today he participates at Mass, and is cognizant of the sacred environment his mother says.

"When we do go to Church, he is able to fold his hands. He is able to go up to Communion and receive the Eucharist," Proulx said. "I think he has an understanding that Mass is a quiet time, a peaceful time."

"Going to Church is not a negative activity in his life," she added. "It's become a positive one."

Various parishes offer programs for students with special needs. Classes are small -- less than ten students -- and include prayers, song, a lesson, activity and a snack. They last around one hour in duration.

Though most students in the programs have a form of autism, the programs serve students with other disabilities as well. In many cases, students remain together throughout all their years of religious formation.

Programs use pictures to teach Bible stories, Catholic theology and prayers because many students are non-verbal.

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