Darcee has a unique insight into this, and shares what parishes can do to help families with special needs feel at home.
US Catholic features a longer piece on the same topic, for which Darcee was also interviewed.
It is a question near and dear to my heart, as one of my most memorable days as a priest was giving First Communion to a girl of about ten who had severe Cerebral Palsy. There was not a dry eye in the place, including mine. (Even Germans have emotions, some of the time!)
But even closer to home, another neice (sister to the First Communicant above) has ACC, which presents much like Autism. You better believe I will fight for her to receive, if I have to.
To those parents of children with special needs, your grace and sacrifice is a unique and special way of living Christ on the Cross, a daily dying to self to live for others. I know it is not easy or fun, and certainly not something that is to be wished upon thy worst enemy; but your children often teach the rest of us what it is to truely trust in God's wonderous providence.
The pertinent paragraph on the question above:
According to the U.S. Bishops’ Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, a person must “be able to distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture, or reverential silence rather than verbally.” Just as parishes don’t expect all 7- or 8-year-old communicants to expound upon the meaning of transubstantiation, children like Rachel, who may not be able to go through formal religious education, are simply asked to recognize that the Eucharist is sacred and not just a snack.