By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
“Every interaction, whether it be at the hair salon, waiting in the doctor’s office or at the grocery store, is an opportunity for prayer,” said Mercedes Rizzo, who with her husband, David, are parents to four children, one of them with special needs.
The Rizzos, members of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, have written a new book for parents looking to face little moments of daily life with the power of prayer. “Praying For Your Special Needs Child” (Word Among Us Press) shares the challenges faced by the couple as they raised their third child, Danielle, who has autism and is non-verbal.
Their work shares tips on finding compassionate doctors and specialists, advocating in the schools for the child's individualized education plan, preparing a child to receive the Sacraments, giving attention to the couple’s marriage and other children, and preparing the child for adulthood. It also discusses many forms of prayer, including prayers of petition, visualization, reading Scripture, turning to the saints and retreats.
Milestones are bittersweet, “but they can drive prayer, too,” David Rizzo said. “We realized that, as parents of differently abled children, we have a lot in common with [other families], the challenges and stressors. We were obliged to talk about prayer, work through the experience, and find the good in it.”
In the book’s introduction, the Rizzos describe their journey to the Padre Pio Shrine, Landisville, upon learning of Danielle’s autism diagnosis, and how it has evolved into a source of strength and guidance.
“We needed to trust that God would answer our prayers in the best way, even if we didn’t understand yet what the best way was,” they wrote. “Our family has come to rely on prayer, but in a very different way than we originally expected… It allowed us to tap into energy that we needed in order to get through each day. It gave us the strength to get up and talk to God… Prayer sustained us through very trying times, and it continues to sustain us now.”
With the desire that Danielle receive her First Holy Communion through their parish’s religious education program as her siblings had before her, the couple had created a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with a picture book and puzzles to explain the Sacrament. The eight-part “Adaptive First Eucharist Kit” was published by Loyola Press in 2011 and was the winner of the 2012 Association of Catholic Publishers Excellence in Publishing Award.
David Rizzo, who holds a master’s degree in physical therapy, and Mercedes Rizzo, with a master’s degree in education, also co-authored “Spiritually Able: A Parent's Guide to Teaching the Faith to Children with Special Needs” (Loyola Press, 2014), a personal account with tips and advice that chronicles their journey with Danielle as she received the Sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation in their parish.
For the new book, in the chapter titled “You Are Your Child’s Intercessor,” the Rizzos discuss praying for patience, peace and understanding as parents face the challenges of raising a special needs child. They write:
“The key is to trust that you will find meaning in the experience and that you will see God’s plan unfold…. In the beginning of our walk as parents of a special needs child, our level of understanding was insufficient. God transformed our faulty understanding, but it took time. We had to give up for a time our vision of what we thought life was supposed to be. We had to walk in darkness. Faith and trust gave us night vision and allowed us to make it to dawn.”
Follow the Rizzos on their blog (AutismwiththeRizzos.wordpress.com): on Facebook (Autism with the Rizzos); on Twitter (@DaveandMercedes), and on Instagram (daveandmercedes).