Category Archives: Catholic Faith

Autism Moms Interview #7 Angela Kahler

april_is_autism_awareness_month_1

I met Angela Kahler at our first Gifts of the Heart event in 2012.  We connected as autism moms and fellow Catholics immediately and I knew she and we would become good friends. (Which we have!)

A bundle of energy. Angela is extremely involved in the community.  She was on the FIN Board of Directors for 4 years and is still very active with FIN events.  She is also a Disability Advocate at her church, Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach and the Treasurer of the Virginia Beach Special Educational PTSA.  

Thank you for your friendship, Angela, and all you do for your family and the disability community.

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?

Angela: Joe was pretty young. He was 23 months old when he was diagnosed. I grieved the loss of the life I wished and planned for for my son. I was devastated. Since then, I have realized what I wanted for my son was a happy life- Joe has always been happy. We are blessed. Different things make him happy (and plenty of the same things- love and affection.). I worried, will he marry- the truth is I think he will find happiness in non-typical ways. 

photo

Question: How has living with autism affected your family?

Angela: We are much more aware of autism of course, but also all other differences, i.e development, abilities, etc. Even my extended family is focused on not just supporting Joe but kids and adults with differences.

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?

Angela: Joe has been in speech therapy, OT and ABA (off and on) since he was 2. He is now 11. We have been on a fast paced schedule with little rest for that many years. I worry about not doing enough to help him reach his potential but I also worry about us having enough time to just enjoy life.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

Angela: I have embraced the truth that children with autism are children first. Joe and I have been spending a lot of time just doing typical mom/son things- watching movies, reading, laughing. As a family, we have been enjoying more of these regular joys.

Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?

Angela: I clung to my faith when Joe was diagnosed. Very well meaning friends asked me if there was something I was doing that was preventing Joe from being “healed”. I am Catholic. As I often do when looking for answers to important and hard questions, I turned to my faith and the Bible- and the story- was it the sin of the blind man or his parents that caused him to be blind? Neither this man nor his parents sinned- this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. I also think differently about autism now then I did when Joe was first diagnosed. Joe’s autism is a difference but it does not define him. I have had to do a lot of soul searching. Admittedly, when Joe was first diagnosed- I thought autism was a tragedy, almost a death sentence for people with autism and their families- please forgive me, I didn’t know. It is a difference. It is part of my son. He is a blessing, gifted and talented as God made him. He also brings out the best in others. He is something special. His smile is contagious. My brother went to church with us and I was praying for Joe to make it through without being too loud- Joe danced to the music, laughed, smiled and enjoyed church- my brother remarked- he was a blessing to everyone around us at church. Prayers answered. Lesson learned- have faith.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?

Angela: To my 39 year old self- I would say, try to relax- 9 years from now Joe will be a sweet, adorable, happy kid. You will have advised many moms how to get their kids the help they need, find therapy and doctors and you will look them right in the eye and tell them this will all work out. You will have been supported by smart, loving compassionate people- you are not alone. I also wish my 60 year old self could tell me something now- I am very hopeful for the future. I can tell Joe still has a lot to teach me.
photo (1)

Welcoming the Visitor

As I walked out of St. John Chrysostom, a Catholic Church in the Philadelphia area, I was filled with the warmth of acceptance and belonging. How does that happen after one visit to a church? Let me explain…
Since my position leading Faith Inclusion Network began, I have learned about and experienced everything from the most inclusive of faith communities to the most unwelcoming and exclusive. I am sensitive to the efforts faith communities make to include people like my daughter who have disabilities and always grateful when someone, either from my home church or in another place of worship, welcomes us.
This past Sunday, my family and I attended Easter Sunday Mass at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Church in Wallingford, PA. http://sjcparish.org/ we were visiting our oldest at Swarthmore College and wanted to attend Mass as a family for Easter. Easy enough, right?

st-john-chrysostom-church
Well, maybe not. Because being in a new, crowded place is not always best for Samantha, who has autism. I had reason to be optimistic that our experience would be positive however.
First, we had already been to worship many times in our home church with success. The Mass is the same everywhere, which works in our favor, for sure.
We had also attended a different church the previous year when on a similar trip. The ushers were welcoming and even helped us find the perfect seat for Samantha, assuring us that she would be fine. –(Easter Sunday, 2015 at St. Madeline’s Church http://www.stmadelineparish.com/ .)
But I was particularly excited about this worship opportunity because I had encountered St. John’s online before we left Norfolk. A brief glance at their website and I was convinced I wanted to go.
First of all, they had received the 2015 Loyola Press Opening Doors Award from the NCPD. This award is “given to a parish that is doing exceptional work in facilitating meaningful participation of Catholic with disabilities.” http://www.ncpd.org/ and without even attending a Mass, I could see some of the reasons why they had been given this special recognition. The regular schedule of Masses included a “Mass of Welcoming and Inclusion” on the first Sunday of every month. ASL interpreters were also regularly scheduled.
Reading further, I noticed Disability Ministry activities, one with a special speaker and the other, a community project. Things were looking promising here.
We got to St. John’s at 9:05 am for a 9:30 am Mass and watched as people started filing into the sanctuary. A notable amount of families with young children were there, restless, even crying children could be heard all around. Many people smiled and warmly welcomed us with their expressions, observing, I’m sure, Samantha’s somewhat unusual behavior of looking straight up at the ceiling at the lights for minutes at a time. I observed only smiles of welcome.
I glanced in my pew and found a blue paper. The message included comforting words to the parents of young children (and an inferred message to parents of children with special needs, I thought as well). The notice expressed something about God putting the “wiggle” in your children, and do not be worried if they express this during the Mass. Again, the ASL Interpretation was noted as well as a statement about greeting and accepting all of the congregants, regardless of age and amount of “wiggleness” (my word not theirs) with acceptance and understanding.
It is no wonder that St. John’s was filled to capacity, the pastor even guessing that, with standing room only they probably had 900 people in church. Pastor Hallinan’s exclamation to this observation-“Alleluia and Praise Jesus!”-made us all smile.
When the Mass was over, we filed out with everyone else and my heart was full. We were anonymous at this church, no one knew us or anything about my advocacy work as Director of FIN. But I felt that we, as a family who experience disability, were welcomed and even belonged there.
The good news is that there are faith communities all over Hampton Roads who are making similar efforts to welcome and include all. One of the lessons I take away from this visit to St. John’s though, is that the efforts were obvious, even to the one time visitor. Information online made it clear that this is a place that cares about including everyone…and my family’s experience bore witness to this.
As we continue to do our work in the Hampton Roads area; developing disability ministry efforts, holding FIN events and all the other fabulous work being done here, let’s also keep in mind that we need to make our efforts known and obvious. Share what you are doing online, on social media and with our community at large. You never know who is passing through and will be encouraged and comforted by your efforts.
God bless.
K. Jackson

20160327_104449

Samantha, Karen, Jacob and Joseph Jackson (Dad, Scott taking the photo) after Easter Mass, 2016