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Terri Mauro

Judging Disruptive Behavior in Church

By May 20, 2008

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Do you ever wonder what you look like to other people? I'm not talking about your hair or your clothes or scary photos like the one I see of myself on this site every day. I'm talking about the way you manage your child's behavior.

It seems like it should be pretty straightforward: Some things are acceptable, and some things are not. It must be so comfortably black and white for so many people. But as parents of children with special needs ... there are just things you get used to, don't you think, and see as less disruptive or less traumatic than others do?

I've been thinking about this in light of yesterday's post about the church that issued a restraining order against the family of a child with autism. The behavior and parental response described sound extreme -- but how much, I wonder, is that in the eye and ear and life experience of the beholder?

I know there are times when, pew-sitting with my son, we or he do things that might raise eyebrows. When I hold down his hands to keep him from waving them above his head, would people describe that as restraining him? Or when my husband and I hold him down when he has an overwhelming urge to stand up and dance? When we head off an inappropriate outburst by clapping a quick hand over his mouth?

Individually, I'm not wild about doing any of those things, but in the course of maintaining some decorum during a quiet hour, they're just what we do. And things like sucking his fingers or chewing a hole in his shirt are just what he does. He behaves exponentially better than he used to, in the days when I had to sit on the floor of the cry room with my arms tight around him.

Still, I wonder what people think when they look at us. I wonder if they're judging us, and I suppose I'm judging them. Particularly, this week, I'm judging the two ushers who were sitting behind us on Sunday, having a perfectly audible conversation in which they made cracks about the way the priest was conducting the service.

It was all I could do not to slap a hand across their mouths. There's all kinds of disruptive, fellas, you know?

Photo by Terri Mauro
May 20, 2008 at 4:10 pm
(1) Therese says:

I appreciate your article. We have a large family but never knew what a challenge Mass could be until we had our 6th son. I’m an OT but never worked in pediatrics and didn’t ‘see’ his sensory issues. I just knew he couldn’t handle it all the way my other kids could. He’s been a humbling child for me – all those times I judged other parents and their chidlren – yikes! Now I understand my 5yo ds much better. I bring things like clay for him to fiddle with, have him chew a piece of gum, etc. Church is hard for him but it’s amazing how these little things help him keep moving – but not COMPLETELY disrupting everyone else in our small church!

And I agree – those people who are chatting, laughing, staring and pointing are more disruptive to me than the most unruly little darling!!

May 26, 2008 at 12:23 am
(2) JHS says:


Thanks for participating in this week’s very special Memorial Day Edition of the Carnival of Family Life at Colloquium! Stop by and check out some of the other wonderful articles included in this edition!

May 30, 2008 at 6:55 pm
(3) Emily says:

Thank you for your article. My 5-year-old is not considered special needs, yet we have struggled to sit through church services with him since he was very young. It used to upset me to see the stares we got as we dragged him in with him screaming, “I HATE CHURCH!!” and the dirty looks we got from older couples with no children in the pews in front and behind us as we tried to keep him calm and quiet. It would have been so much easier for us to just stay home and not attend. But I eventually realized that he really needed this, and it didn’t matter what people thought of us or our boy or our parenting, that what we were doing was best for our son.
Thanks again for your perspective on this!

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