According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 150 children is diagnosed with some form of autism. This presents a challenge for many religious education programs that are staffed by volunteers with no specialized training. The Saint Mary’s Curriculum is designed to meet the needs of students for whom traditional religious education, even with accommodations, is not working. A setting and a curriculum designed for these students, not modified for them, allows them greater growth in understanding and faith.
The St. Mary’s curriculum originally began as a loose adaptation of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program to Improve Catholic Religious Education for Children and Adults with Mental Retardation. Similarities can still be seen in its sequence and scope. Unlike the Kennedy curriculum, however, the St. Mary’s curriculum is visually based, entails limited language and more repetition, and is designed for students who cannot participate in a discussion and may have difficulty understanding emotions. It also concentrates more on literal concerns that frequently interest and/or trouble students with autism (e.g. Who says what at Mass? When do I stand up? When do I sit down?)
The St. Mary’s curriculum is used in a number of parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, and trainings in it have been sponsored by the Archdiocese.