Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

ABOUT Cognitive, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD)

By our baptism, all people are children of God and called to lives of holiness. People should be welcomed into their parishes, invited to learn about our faith, and able to receive the sacraments to the degree they are able.

Need more tools to understand the Mass better? Do you have diverse learners in your parish religious education program? Looking for support from other Catholic families?

Look no further!

The Apostolate is dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities and their friends and families live out their call to holiness and mission as disciples.

Contact us with your specific needs.

The Apostolate can provide assistance:

  • finding a home in their parish
  • actively participating in the community
  • overcoming obstacles to receiving the sacraments

The Apostolate also works with parishes to remove physical, environmental, and cultural barriers that may be limiting the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in their community. We also work with families and individuals to consult and mediate what steps need to be taken for each individual.

Disability Ministry

  • The Apostolate hosts one large summer event each year – the 2024 event is on June 6th at Devil’s Lake State Park – DAY AT DEVILS LAKE. Please contact us for more information.
  • The Apostolate hosts and annual St. Margaret of Castello Mass, which celebrates the presence of people with disabilities in our diocese and is a Sensory Friendly Mass – this means that lights are kept lower, most Mass parts are read rather than sung or chanted (there is still music for some Mass parts and opening and closing songs, for example), and most importantly, everyone knows that there are people present with sensory needs who may have to get up and walk around or make noises throughout the Mass. The St. Margaret Mass is presided over by Bishop Hying with a reception following. The 2024 St. Margaret Mass will be on Sunday, April 14th.
  • Each Pastorate can apply annually for a $500 grant to host a local St. Margaret Mass. Suggested times to host are around her feast day in April or July, which is Disability Pride Month. This is an excellent opportunity to connect with people with disabilities in your local community.
  • Retreat opportunities – one to two times per year, the Apostolate hosts retreats for persons with disabilities.
  • Adaptive Catechesis kits are available for sacramental preparation for First Communion, First Reconciliation, and Confirmation. Many parishes have their own kits, so please contact your DRE first, unless it has been determined that Sacramental prep at home would be a better option for the student.
  • Many parishes use Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This method of catechesis is led by the child’s curiosity and allows them to learn at their own pace. It is a naturally great option for children who can be in a classroom setting but can’t learn as quickly or who prefer more hands on learning.
  • Visual Schedule for participating at Mass

Apostolate Retreat Days

  • The Apostolate offers 2 retreat days per year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall.
  • In 2024, the Spring opportunity will be to join the Sisters of Mary Morning Star for prayer and praise at their convent on the east side of Madison/Monona. The Fall day is TBD still.

Disability Ministries and Programs in the Diocese of Madison

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Monona has a special education program and welcomes children from any parish.
  • St. Maria Goretti welcomes children from any parish who have intellectual disabilities who need one on one catechesis / sacramental preparation. Their classes are on Sunday mornings. Contact their DRE for more details.
  • Divine Mercy Academy is a Catholic Montessori school that invites all income levels and educational needs. The student services department offers adaptive and creative approaches to education for all students.
  • The Learning Atrium offers services for students experiencing dyslexia. This program serves students in multiple schools across the diocese using the Barton Program.
  • Blessed Sacrament’s ‘Called By Name’ group invites people with disabilities in their parish to come together for fellowship and opportunities to more fully participate in parish life. They have events about once/month.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Servers of God’ group invites people with disabilities to come together for fellowship and learning as together they practice the skills each person desires to grow in relationship with God and others, participation in their faith communities, and as disciples.

Books and Resources available to borrow

  • Adaptive Catechesis Kits
  • Religious Potential of the Child
  • The Adaptive Teacher, by Charleen Katra, Director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability – This book is meant for catechists and educators. It gives strategies and tactics to meet the needs of diverse learners. It provides the tools to: foster a welcoming environment for all, understand the specific needs of learners with disabilities, adapt your teaching approach for the benefit of all, develop effective communication strategies, and help learners build confidence, independence, and ownership.
  • How to Welcome, Include, and Catechize Children with Autism and Other Special Needs, by Lawrence R. Sutton – this book is a parish-based approach model to adaptive catechesis.
  • LAMB: Inclusive Participation Assessment Tool.
  • Speaking Disability: Pastoral Guidelines on Language

Know of another resource we don’t have? Please let us know about it!

Etiquette Suggestions and Considerations for Persons with Learning/Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities: 

  • Greet person normally with a normal tone and volume.
  • Repeat information about yourself if necessary.
  • Give the person time to process and respond.
  • Rephrase sentences that the person does not understand.
  • Check for understanding. A person may agree/nod in agreement even if they are having trouble understanding because they want to understand or are embarrassed that they do not.
  • Treat everyone equally.
  • Even if the person doesn’t read, offer reading materials.
  • Introduce them to others in the parish or help them to find a “Mass buddy”.

Sensory and Behavior specific:

  • Create a space available that parishioners can go to de-escalate challenging behaviors.
  • Greet someone and show them kindness, then be understanding if they are not able to make eye contact with you or continue to carry on a conversation.
  • During a behavior, wait for rational moments to give alternative options so that you can avoid arguing with someone who is not currently able to be rational.
  • Ask how you can help, find out if there is a support person who can be sent for.
  • Ask the person what will make him/her most comfortable and respect his/her needs to the maximum extent possible.

Latest News

Guidelines For The Celebration Of The Sacraments With Persons With Disabilities
Jul 18 | 2017

Guidelines For The Celebration Of The Sacraments With Persons With Disabilities

The Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities has been revised and republished by the USCCB! Familiarize yourself with this document. It is a great gift […]
Faith and Autism
Jul 14 | 2017

Faith and Autism

Apostolate staff, Dcn. Jim and Kellie O’Brien, attended a panel discussion on Faith Inclusion for People with Disabilities at the National Autism Conference. The Conference was hosted in Milwaukee on […]

Religious Education Success

Religious education for children with disabilities often requires special accomodations. As the parent, you are in the driver's seat to decide if you want your child mainstreamed with an assistant, in a seperate class, home schooled, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, or other style of learning that fits them. The primary goal is to share the message of the love of God and prepare them to receive the sacraments. Contact your parish DRE or the Apostolate for more details.


Moment with the Bishop of Madison

Learn about our faith, a few minutes a week, directly from our loving bishop!

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Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities

People from all around the world share their involvement in their parish and thank Pope Francis for his love and support. It was created by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability for the international gathering on Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities in Rome in October 2017.

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How to Welcome, Include and Catechize Children with Autism and Other Special Needs
Book by Dcn. Larry Sutton, contact the Apostolate if purchasing it is a financial burden for a parish.
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