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Living a Catholic Life with an Autistic Child
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Mary Beth Mulicka, a busy mother of seven, received the news that her child, Marisa was autistic when she turned three. She had lost all functional speech at two. "If you have faith, don't lose it. These children have something special to give to the world."
FOUNTAIN HILL, PA. (Catholic Online) - Mulicka was not particularly alarmed since the daughter closest to Marisa in birth order had been diagnosed with a central auditory processing disorder. She had thought Marisa was just imitating her older sister's speech.
Karen Senft, M.D., Developmental Pediatrician at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital, Allentown, PA., dispelled that notion and gave Mulicka the news that Marisa was autistic.
"She's my miracle!" Mulicka said about Dr. Senft, who has made herself very available and responsive to Mulicka.
That diagnosis began a whirlwind learning experience for Mulicka. She was able to receive 40 hours of support for Marissa every week with a team that included a mobile therapist, a behavioral specialist, and therapeutic staff support.
"It takes a community to raise a child like Marisa," Mulicka asserted.
Part of that community has included the family's parish, Notre Dame of Bethlehem, PA, Msgr. Thomas D. Baddick, Pastor.
"The first time we went a Eucharistic minister offered Marisa Holy Communion," Mulicka said. They declined since Marisa has not made her first Holy Communion but the spirit of love and generosity of the congregation was very apparent.
Sometimes Marisa can be noisy in church but Mulicka has found a loving, supportive church community in which they all feel welcome.
"Go church!" exclaims Marisa, who looks forward to weekly Mass at Notre Dame.
The Allentown Diocese hosts a Mass on the second Sunday of the month at Our Lady of
Perpetual Help, Bethlehem, specifically for the autistic population in the area. There is a lot of guitar music and lots of noise but the attendees are happy to be where they are met in an atmosphere of Christian acceptance.
Marisa attends an MDS classroom at Liberty High School, Bethlehem where the studies are uniquely geared to the autistic student. Folding towels, banging a bass drum and other activities that normally wouldn't be thought of in a regular curriculum, fill Marisa's days.
Marisa's sister Emily takes her to school every day and then a bus drops her off at 1:30 every day since by then Marisa is tired.
"I have never been so grateful for my children," said Mulicka who acknowledged the contribution of her other six children in giving Marisa a quality of life she would find nowhere else.
She told of constantly interrupted sleep for all the family caused by Marisa's nocturnal
wanderings. Marisa occasionally becomes aggressive while communicating but her siblings have learned appropriate responses.
"We include her in every facet of our lives," Mulicka asserted.
Together the family has committed to keeping Marissa with them to avoid placing her in either an institution or group home.
Many people in Mulicka's Fountain Hill community consider her a wonder woman. She is a vibrant openly happy person. She is a widow. Her husband, Charlie, died seven years ago.
When pregnant with her youngest daughter, it was discovered that she had cervical cancer. Staunchly pro-life, Mulicka refused to do anything but carry her daughter to term.
Her parents, members of St. Ursula Parish, Fountain Hill, contacted the local Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance, Coopersburg, PA, founded by Mother Therese of Jesus, to pray for their daughter and grandchild.
Then, on her sister Marisa's August 27 birthday, Grace Therese was born, a healthy gift from God.
Mulicka's faith is clearly the centerpiece of her busy, but fulfilling life.
She wanted to encourage other parents of special needs children. "If you have faith, don't lose it. These children have something special to give to the world."
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