The following link offers a modern view of Autism and the church, “The rates for autism are growing at an alarming rate. The time for acceptance is long overdue…especially in the church.”
Here are 7 ways your church can embrace a child with Autism and their caregivers:
- Be Accepting: Folks with autism will behave in unexpected ways. Accept their differences and love them unconditionally. Chances are they will be unable to sit still and remain quiet through the entire worship service. Ask caregivers for information about their child’s individual needs within your church’s settings. Listen to their responses. Just because you have experienced a child with Autism in church at some point, doesn’t mean this child and caregiver will have the same needs. Be creative about how you may be able to help them feel more comfortable. Offer alternative seating arrangements that are less crowded, or even noise dampening headphones.
- Provide Off -Times to Visits: This is time when there is no service running and it is quiet in the building. Show them the layout, and walk through the facility describing the various places they may visit such as Sunday School, Worship Center, Quiet Space etc. Autistic children often need to see boundaries in order to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.
- Paint Picture Stories: This can be a very helpful way to communicate to folks with the disorder. Creating a picture story of your church activities with simple graphics is very powerful when accompanied with #2. Arrange the pictures in a story board style so they can visualize the sequence. Include pictures of people they will see in the service activity. Use simple works and phrases like, “Pastor John is praying. We must be quiet.” Let your special visitor keep a copy to review.
- Be Ready for Meltdowns: Remember that bright lights and multi-technical sound systems can be overwhelming for some people with Autism. There may be random and unaccepted outbursts. There are a few things you can do to reduce the impact. First, find a way to communicate to your congregation that this behavior may occur and not to react negatively. Caregivers are very perceptive and will pick-up on the negative vibe which in turn will drive them away. Second, offer a quiet place for them to “retreat” if staying in the service is too stimulating. The space should have calm lighting, little noise…just a soft comfortable place for them to relax and settle. Finally, have folks who are tender-hearted and willing to help during these outbreaks.
- Train Volunteers: People who are willing help are awesome, but should be trained on how to effectively assist. Each individual has specific needs and idiosyncrasies that volunteers should understand. The volunteers can offer to stay with their child if the caregiver feels they want to rejoin the remainder of the service. Sometimes, the caregiver may just need a soda, a simple bathroom break, or even a shoulder to cry on.
- Be Positive and Uplifting: Remember that you may not be bothered by an outburst from these children, but too often there are others in church who ARE bothered by outbursts. The caregiver’s concerns about their child’s noise levels and disruptions are very real. Don’t dismiss them. Be sensitive to their needs.
- Understand that Caregivers are Serving: Often caregivers are “spent” – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Parenting children with physical and mental disorders is a 24/7/365 job. What they need from you aside from everything else mentioned above is a comforting presence. All they need to know is that they have a place of worship, rest, retreat, and unconditional acceptance into your church family. Don’t pressure them to serve in other areas in your church. They will offer to do so if they feel led. In these situations, the church should provide support for their special charge(s).
The message from God is SO clear about our responsibility as His body in supporting these folks. Read Matthew chapter 5:1-20 and Matthew 25:31-46 several times…let it sink in…for these folks are “The Least of These.”