05 March 2024

 Accessible Church and Community

Dear Friends,

Please take a few minutes to learn more about the ways we are working to welcome and support children and adults in our community with autism or intellectual disability. 

A Guide for Families

If your family includes a person with disability who may benefit from visual resources to take part at mass please click on the links below

Tullamore Catholic Church - A Visual Guide 

My Mass Book – A Picture Missal

We Go to Mass – Picture Schedule

Going To A Place Of Worship - A Place of Worship


For Parishioners -  Only 2 minutes to spare?  A Quick Guide                                                        

Things to Make a Difference for Autistic People and People with Intellectual Disability.

Always ask the person what may help. For a person with autism, their brains take in too much detail; brain wiring can literally overheat as it tries to handle too much input at once. An autistic person may try very hard to avoid an overload of sensory or social situations. It’s not being awkward, it’s a physical brain difficulty. 

• The presence of children is a joy for our church and community. Please welcome our children  and give a smile of encouragement to their parents.

• Some children with autism or intellectual disability may find it difficult to attend a full mass or event. They may need to move around or to take a break. Their parents may bring books, headphones or other resources for them. They may need a rest area – somewhere quiet to go if needed. And don’t worry if they wander outside with mam or dad for a while. They are always welcome back in.

• Physical events e.g. shaking hands? Water being splashed about? An autistic person may find this physically painful, as many are hypersensitive. Please warn the individual what will happen, and avoid physical contact unless  offered first

• Socialising. Be aware, an autistic adult or child may find it difficult and exhausting as they cannot ‘see’ or hear you that well, especially in a crowd.  Body language can be different and they may not make eye contact. Please don’t think the person is rude. Sitting beside the person to chat, somewhere quieter, is easier than face to face. 

• Be Clear and Accurate. If you say you’ll do something, please do it. Those on the autistic spectrum will always find it very distressing if you promise to help and don’t, or promise to phone at a certain time and don’t. Or if you use expressions like, “I’ll be back in five minutes” when you mean, “I’ll be back some time in the next hour”. If you need to change arrangements, please just let us know.

• When talking to an individual with autism or intellectual disability speaking clearly and using short sentences can help. The person is less likely to feel overloaded by information and so able to process what you say. 

• Support people to participate and contribute according to their abilities and strengths and enjoy being valued members of our congregation.

• Introduce yourself to a family in the community with a child with autism or intellectual disability. Autism and disability can lead to social isolation for the individual and family; connecting with others can build community and encourage faith.

• Small or home prayer groups or bible study groups can be a very good way for a person with autism or intellectual disability to get to know people in an easier environment and be included.

Remember we are all made in the image and likeness of God and  each one of us have intrinsic value and worth. Each individual and their families are valued members of our Church and community.  


"Working at the Theology."

"Welcoming those with Autism” is an example of the growing confidence of the disabled community in taking up its voice and asking the church some punchy questions: 

• Do you really want to be more welcoming to people with disabilities? If you do, then what is likely to prevent you? 

• Some would say that scripture passages have often been used in a way which disempowers people with disabilities. Is this so?  

• What is your understanding of disability? What should it be? 

• Does your understanding of the disabled person need to be challenged? 

The work of looking at how Christian theology has developed and how it can lead to marginalising people with disabilities has been spear-headed by the blind theologian John Hull. This work is now being taken up more generally and urgently. 

Disability has become linked with many untruths, and unhelpful ill-thought out things are said about it. 

Some examples: 

• Children with disabilities have parents who have done something wrong. 

• People with disabilities wallow in self-pity 

• People with disabilities are a nuisance 

• Disabilities are like an illness and we must do all we can to cure people who have them 

• People with disabilities are in some way defective 

• Disabilities are tragedies and people with disabilities are to be pitied 

• We really wish that these people, “they”, weren’t there. 


Some equivalents in traditional Christian spirituality and theology might be: 

• Disabilities are lessons used by God to teach us to empathise with others less fortunate 

• Humankind is fallen, but the disabled are more fallen than others. 

• Didn’t Jesus set out to cure/heal those with infirmities and aren’t we striving to imitate him by doing the same? 

• Heaven is a place where all imperfection has been removed, therefore disability has no place in the heart of God. 


Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a world network of communities for people with intellectual disabilities, lays out the groundwork simply and profoundly: 


People with disabilities are like everybody else. 

Each person is unique and important, 

Whatever their culture, religion, abilities or disabilities. 

Each one has been created by God and for God. 

Each has a vulnerable heart 

And yearns to love and be loved and valued. 

Each one has a mission. 

Each of us is born so that God’s work may be accomplished in us. 


The idea of God may not make a lot of sense to some people, but loving care, reverence, and respect from others can be known. It can be experienced. To someone with a disability, God shows his love through welcome and relationships. He shows it most especially through friendship. 

The disability human rights movement is making us aware of the extent to which discrimination and exclusion are experienced by those with disabilities. This poses a challenge to the church. The church has to be faithful to its calling to build a community which includes everyone. 

In Acts Chapter 2 verses 4-11 there is a vivid picture of difference and variety as the church began its life. All are included – “the spirit fell upon each of them” Acts 2v3. The story points us to the many languages spoken in the Spirit. Even through “strange tongues” the Holy Spirit includes everyone and “difference” is celebrated. 

The church’s task today, as it was at its birth, is to build a community of welcome. It is to offer “friendship in Christ”. This friendship truly celebrates diversity and accepts people just as they are. 

In Luke 14 verses 15-24 there is another picture of the church’s welcome to everybody. This parable of the great dinner has been referred to as the “Come as you are” party! The ‘poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame’ in the story stand for the stranger, the marginalised, and the excluded . From the viewpoint of disability, this story shows Jesus hosting a celebratory meal, where the disabled are invited guests, just as those without disabilities are. 

A Welcome is built through making both our buildings accessible and ourselves accessible. These guidelines suggest practical ways of making church accessible to the disability community….sending out the invitation, as it were, to the great dinner. But a true welcome means not only making practical arrangements easier but it also means a welcome from the heart. We have to be open to be changed in our deepest centre to be truly welcoming. It is not people with disabilities who need healing , but people without disabilities who need to be changed. 

“Working at the Theology” courtesy of Oxford Diocese “Welcoming Autistic People in our Churches and Communities” Guidelines by Ann Memmott, who is autistic. We are grateful for Anne and the Oxford teams’s efforts. Follow the link for more information.

Note: We have used a variety of terms such as autism, autistic, person with autism. Different national and international communities respect and honour different words. All are wonderful, God-created people. We acknowledge and respect autism and its uniqueness. 



"Going to a place of Worship" Courtesy of the National Autistic Society UK

The resources used in this page were provided by the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A.

Includes information courtesy of Oxford Diocese “Welcoming Autistic People in our Churches and Communities” Guidelines by Ann Memmott, who is autistic. We are grateful for Anne and the Oxford teams’s efforts. Follow the link for more information.

The Order of the Mass Worship Aid, Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications, 2011.

Pictures: The Picture Communication Symbols © 1981- 2013 by DynaVox Mayer-Johnson  LLC.

Mass resources Courtesy of of the Archdiocese of Newark

All rights reserved worldwide. Used with permission. Pictures from the internet, Masses in parishes of the Archdiocese of Newark. 

A PRAISE Resource - Pesons Recognised Affirmed Included by Spirit-filled Education.

Pastoral ministry with Persons with Disabilities, Newark Archdiocese.

Includes information courtesy of Oxford Diocese “Welcoming Autistic People in our Churches and Communities” Guidelines by Ann Memmott, who is autistic. We are grateful for Anne and the Oxford teams’s efforts. Follow the link for more information.