The outdoors: A great place where you and loved one with special needs can discover God

April 10, 2024 at 3:00 p.m.
The Rizzo children, from left, Shannon, Brendan, Danielle and Colin, enjoy spending time outdoors. Their parents, David and Mercedes, offer a reflection on how the outdoors can help teach children with special needs to learn about their Catholic faith. Courtesy photo
The Rizzo children, from left, Shannon, Brendan, Danielle and Colin, enjoy spending time outdoors. Their parents, David and Mercedes, offer a reflection on how the outdoors can help teach children with special needs to learn about their Catholic faith. Courtesy photo

By David & Mercedes Rizzo, Special Contributors

Parents are often looking for ways to introduce their loved ones with special needs to the beauty and mystery of the outdoors. Frequently, people with autism and other special needs have difficulty sitting in a classroom or learning from books and lectures. The outdoors provides more freedom to explore and burn off excess energy. It can be more fun too.

We started taking our daughter Danielle outdoors for these reasons but soon found that such outings could lead to a deep silence and appreciation of God reflected in his creation. This has been true for people of all faiths, times and cultures. We know as Catholic Christians that God is the very ground of being, and that everything exists and proceeds from his creative presence.

Theologians, mystics and poets have proclaimed this. Enjoying the outdoors is one important way to become aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Here are some easy ways you can introduce loved ones with special needs to the outdoors and discover God there:

  • Take a walk together around your neighborhood, park or other outdoor area.

We live in a suburban neighborhood that has a walking path by the woods. During our walks we’ve seen many animals. Once we came upon a deer. Danielle, who is non-verbal, turned to the picture-based speech program on her iPad and pressed the picture of a “dog.” Danielle was not satisfied with her choice and pressed several more pictures before finding a deer. She seemed delighted once she had the vocabulary to express what she was experiencing. We stood a moment staring at the deer in deep silence before it bolted into the woods.

  • Wake up early and see the sun rise.

This can be a very beautiful experience. We took our daughter to a sunrise Easter Mass. It was a chilly outdoor service during which the sun rose and warmed us as the priest was lifting the chalice. This reminded us of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, Praise be You, my Lord with all your creatures; Especially Brother Sun, who is the day And through whom You give us light.

  • Go to the beach.

We love to go to the Jersey Shore. At a beach in the Camden Diocese, there is a tradition held for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary called “The Wedding of the Sea.”

This custom was brought to the area by Italian immigrants. The diocesan bishop leads the tradition during which he goes out in a rowboat and tosses a wreath into the ocean. We have gone on occasion and marveled at this each time. The depth and immensity of the ocean alone would be enough to make us think of God. The beach connects sea and land. Just being there refreshes and renews body and soul. This is true for our loved ones with special needs as well as for us.

  • Plant a Mary Garden.

There are many flowers and plants associated with the Blessed Mother. Examples include daisies, violets and marigolds, but there are many others. Danielle helped us plant several of these flowers around a statue of Mary. She enjoyed watering the flowers and sitting by them. Mary Gardens can be a prayerful environment that your whole family can share.

These are only a few suggestions of ways special needs families can enjoy the outdoors together. Each family can find the outdoor environments and activities that works best for them. God is waiting for all of us to discover him in the beauty and mystery of his creation.

David and Mercedes Rizzo, members of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, have authored several books and articles on the topic of religious education for loved ones with special needs. To learn more about their work, visit davidandmercedesrizzo.com.

Faith at Home is a monthly column coordinated by the Diocese of Trenton’s Departments of Catechesis, Evangelization and Family Life, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For additional Faith at Home resources, visit dioceseoftrenton.org/faith-at-home.


Related Stories

Parents are often looking for ways to introduce their loved ones with special needs to the beauty and mystery of the outdoors. Frequently, people with autism and other special needs have difficulty sitting in a classroom or learning from books and lectures. The outdoors provides more freedom to explore and burn off excess energy. It can be more fun too.

We started taking our daughter Danielle outdoors for these reasons but soon found that such outings could lead to a deep silence and appreciation of God reflected in his creation. This has been true for people of all faiths, times and cultures. We know as Catholic Christians that God is the very ground of being, and that everything exists and proceeds from his creative presence.

Theologians, mystics and poets have proclaimed this. Enjoying the outdoors is one important way to become aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Here are some easy ways you can introduce loved ones with special needs to the outdoors and discover God there:

  • Take a walk together around your neighborhood, park or other outdoor area.

We live in a suburban neighborhood that has a walking path by the woods. During our walks we’ve seen many animals. Once we came upon a deer. Danielle, who is non-verbal, turned to the picture-based speech program on her iPad and pressed the picture of a “dog.” Danielle was not satisfied with her choice and pressed several more pictures before finding a deer. She seemed delighted once she had the vocabulary to express what she was experiencing. We stood a moment staring at the deer in deep silence before it bolted into the woods.

  • Wake up early and see the sun rise.

This can be a very beautiful experience. We took our daughter to a sunrise Easter Mass. It was a chilly outdoor service during which the sun rose and warmed us as the priest was lifting the chalice. This reminded us of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, Praise be You, my Lord with all your creatures; Especially Brother Sun, who is the day And through whom You give us light.

  • Go to the beach.

We love to go to the Jersey Shore. At a beach in the Camden Diocese, there is a tradition held for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary called “The Wedding of the Sea.”

This custom was brought to the area by Italian immigrants. The diocesan bishop leads the tradition during which he goes out in a rowboat and tosses a wreath into the ocean. We have gone on occasion and marveled at this each time. The depth and immensity of the ocean alone would be enough to make us think of God. The beach connects sea and land. Just being there refreshes and renews body and soul. This is true for our loved ones with special needs as well as for us.

  • Plant a Mary Garden.

There are many flowers and plants associated with the Blessed Mother. Examples include daisies, violets and marigolds, but there are many others. Danielle helped us plant several of these flowers around a statue of Mary. She enjoyed watering the flowers and sitting by them. Mary Gardens can be a prayerful environment that your whole family can share.

These are only a few suggestions of ways special needs families can enjoy the outdoors together. Each family can find the outdoor environments and activities that works best for them. God is waiting for all of us to discover him in the beauty and mystery of his creation.

David and Mercedes Rizzo, members of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, have authored several books and articles on the topic of religious education for loved ones with special needs. To learn more about their work, visit davidandmercedesrizzo.com.

Faith at Home is a monthly column coordinated by the Diocese of Trenton’s Departments of Catechesis, Evangelization and Family Life, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For additional Faith at Home resources, visit dioceseoftrenton.org/faith-at-home.

Have a news tip? Email [email protected] or Call/Text 360-922-3092

e-Edition


e-edition

Sign up


for our email newsletters

Weekly Top Stories

Sign up to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every Sunday

Daily Updates & Breaking News Alerts

Sign up to get our daily updates and breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox daily

Latest Stories


Pope: Humility is the 'gateway to all virtues’
Though not found on the classical list of cardinal or theological virtues, ...

Pope: Palliative care is 'concrete sign' of solidarity with those who are suffering
Palliative care seeks "to alleviate the ...

St. John Vianney softball rallies to win SCT title game
The process has been completed.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
This Sunday, the Church throughout the world celebrates the ...

Knights' success built on founder's desire for charity
In many ways, Father Michael J. McGivney was just ...


The Evangelist, 40 North Main Ave., Albany, NY, 12203-1422 | PHONE: 518-453-6688| FAX: 518-453-8448
© 2024 Trenton Monitor, All Rights Reserved.