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Does a Child with Special Needs Have Religious Obligations?

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

May 08, 2019

Question

Salam. I was wondering if a child is high functioning but on the autism spectrum, how accountable are they in terms of religious obligations? And what is the best way to approach it with them. Also what if they struggle learning Arabic and memorizing Quran. (Including parts of prayer like the tahiyaat). He is also noticing he struggles compared to peers, and it effects his confidence even though we keep trying.

Counselor

Answer


Child with Special Needs

In this counseling answer:

•Let your son learn and practice at his own pace and ability to introduce new (or previous) Islamic duties such as salah, reading Qur’an, charity, and so forth- at his pace. Don’t push him, but encourage him with love.

•Examine his learning environment at his classes. There is nothing more disheartening than trying to keep up with “peers” who are at a different level than you.

•Try to find out if there are Islamic Autism groups in your area.


As-salamu alaykum sister,

Thank you for writing to us. May Allah swt bless your efforts with your child. While I am not sure how old your child is, it is wonderful mash’Allah that he is trying to learn Arabic and memorization of Qur’an.

These tasks are not easy for a lot of people sister.  A new language can be challenging as well as memorization. Given that your son has autism and is accomplishing this is even more of a blessing for both him and you.

I am not an Islamic scholar but I do know Allah is most merciful. He created your son and only Allah knows what your son is truly capable of. As your son has a ‘disability”  he would not be held accountable in the same way as someone who did not have autism. In fact, as your son is trying to achieve memorization and learning of Arabic it shows he has a deep love for Allah swt. May Allah bless him and continue to guide him.

Does a Child with Special Needs Have Religious Obligations? - About Islam

Sister, I would let your son learn and practice at his own pace and ability  Introduce new (or previous) Islamic duties such as salah, reading Qur’an, charity, and so forth- at his pace. Don’t push him, but encourage him with love.  If he is unable to complete something, assure him he did a good job, with great efforts and that you are proud of him for trying.  Let the love of Allah continue to fill his heart and mind.

I would kindly suggest however that you examine his learning environment at his classes. There is nothing more disheartening than trying to keep up with “peers” who are at a different level than you. In fact, one may lose all confidence and stop learning due to feeling like a failure when in fact that person was a higher success than others.

I would kindly suggest trying to find out if there are Islamic Autism groups in your area. I know there are various supports within some Islamic communities for people who have special needs. Possibly there is an Arabic class and other Islamic educational classes for those with autism or for students who have special needs. If so, I would recommend that you consider enrolling him in such classes as the teachers are usually trained specifically in how to teach those with autism and other needs.

Additionally, your son would then be truly learning with peers, he would not feel so pressured to keep up and he would insha’Allah feel more confident and happy with his accomplishments. For example, my one daughter excels in learning history, anthropology, art, English and writing but struggles with math.

She struggles hard. Thus putting her in a classroom with all students who excel in math would not boost her confidence nor encourage her to her fullest potential as she would get frustrated and feel her accomplishments were not good enough in comparison to those “peers” who naturally excel in math.


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I chose to put her in a class wherein most of the students were struggling with math and she learned the same concepts, at the same time, only she was excited to learn, looked forward to classes and felt confident in her abilities as she was not comparing herself to those with a natural inclination towards mathematical abilities.

On the other hand, there are a lot of positives for mainstreaming education. It helps to make the child feel included in “standard” educational activities; it encourages the child to excel, it promotes diversity, acceptance as well as social normalization of those who have been in the past stigmatized.

However, the downside as you noted, may be intense pressure to keep up with others as well as losing a confidence that was well earned.  Sister your son’s learning of Islam thus far is phenomenal.

As you know autistic children are very bright and capable, often beyond others who do not have autism. I would kindly suggest that you speak to him about how he feels about being in the classes. Discuss with him his gifts and great abilities to learn compared to others who do not face the same challenges he faces.

I would encourage him to study at his own pace and not compare himself to others in a negative light. If he becomes too overwhelmed, I would kindly suggest looking into the above suggestion for an Islamic education for those with special needs.

While your son is on the high functioning spectrum, you know your son best and know what his tolerance levels are, what encourages him and what doesn’t. Talk to your son, watch his progress and his enthusiasm as well as his confidence levels. Continue to give your son the best tarbiya as this is his right.  Make duaa to Allah that He grant ease for your son and also thank Allah for the amazing son you have!

May Allah swt bless you both!

Salam

***

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About Aisha Mohammad

Aisha received her PhD in psychology in 2000 and an MS in public health in 2009. Aisha worked as a Counselor/Psychologist for 12 years for Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center in New York. Aisha specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marriage/relationships issues, as well as community-cultural dynamics. She is certified in Restorative Justice/ Healing Circles, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and is also a certified Life Coach. Aisha works at a Family Resource Center, and has a part-time practice in which she integrates healing and spirituality using a holistic approach. Aisha plans to open a holistic care counseling center for Muslims and others in the New York area in the future, in sha' Allah. Aisha is also a part of several organizations that advocate for social & food justice. In her spare time she enjoys her family, martial arts classes, Islamic studies as well as working on her book and spoken word poetry projects.

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