Charlie and Maura Weis were living on Long Island, NY while he worked as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets. Their life seemed ideal, it was springtime in the lovely community they called home, and they were blessed with two children, Charlie Jr. age 4 and a vivacious, blue-eyed daughter Hannah age 2. Hannah's serious kidney problems at birth seemed a distant memory, and the road ahead looked smooth and uneventful. Then, one symptom at a time, it became obvious to Maura and Charlie that something was not right with her beautiful daughter. Not only that she wasn't developing at the rate of other children her age, but she was losing interest in her surroundings, and was upset easily. She was not the same child she had been only five months ago. Her preschool teacher said, "It's as if she's in a world of her own" (p19). At two and a half years of age, the dreaded diagnosis "autism" hit the Weis family like a Mack truck. Nothing in their lives would ever be the same.
In this emotionally honest and expressive book (Ave Maria Press, 176 pages), Maura Weis describes her personal struggle to get a complete diagnosis for and learn to live with Hannah's autism. Maura describes some of her daughter's challenges, "To this day, Hannah, now twelve, can't dress herself or make her own breakfast. She has a limited vocabulary and feels frustrated when she can't communicate with those around her ". Through the difficulties in raising Hannah, Maura has learned what truly matters in life, and she credits Hannah's special sensitivity to the emotional needs of other for helping her grow spiritually. This is something which all special needs children do for their parents, according to Maura. "God entrusted Hannah to our care and called her to fill our special needs" (p156).
If you are parenting a special needs child, this book will bring you to tears many times, as Maura's vivid descriptions of her struggles to accept the dramatic lifestyle changes associated with raising an autistic child bring back your own painful memories. If you have family or friends with a child with unusual behavior you just can't understand, Miles from the Sideline will help you grow in sensitivity to the pain the child and her family often endure when they face rejection and judgment from others. This is exactly what Maura hopes to accomplish by sharing her private struggles in this book, to make the world a better place for children with special needs to find acceptance, inclusion and purpose.
This book shares Maura's spiritual growth while mothering Hannah and has some profound spiritual insights, yet there are some areas which cause concern for Catholics. The first is the fact that the Weis family had two Baptisms performed for Hannah, an emergency baptism performed in the hospital and another performed by their parish priest (p 138). This is against Catholic teaching, since individuals with a valid baptism may not repeat this sacrament. Perhaps her parish priest was unaware that Hannah had been given an emergency baptism in the hospital. The:
Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated — Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1272.
The Christian's incorporation into Christ at baptism empowers her to overcome all evil forces and live beyond superstition, which brings up another area of concern: Hannah's participation in Reiki with Sr. Claudia (on page 92). Although this is practiced by some Catholics, it is against the teaching of the Church as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion… Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity" — CCC, 1272.
Maura sought the guidance of the Church in both of these situations, so who is responsible for it?
Maura Weis is a devoted mother to her two children, and is to be commended for refusing an abortion when it was offered as a solution to Hannah's medical problems when they were pre-natally diagnosed. Her determination to find adequate medical treatment and education to optimize Hannah's development is inspirational. Her humility is touching as she shares her darkest times, her spiritual growth, and her uncertainty about Hannah's future. Miles from the Sideline is valuable as a sources of insight into the trials and triumphs of the special needs mother, and as a means of coming to appreciate what people like Hannah have to offer the world which too often rejects them.
Maura and Charlie also founded "Hannah & Friends" in 2003. This not-for-profit foundation focuses on providing a better quality of life for children and adults with special needs. The proceeds from the sale of Miles from the Sideline will go towards building a residential facility, set on 30 acres near South Bend, IN, complete with jobs for the residents, a petting zoo, and a riding program. But the larger purpose of the foundation is, "to promote awareness of and compassion for people with disabilities" (p12).