Our chapel has just purchased some land to build a new building in another location in a subdivision close the our current building. It is all very exciting to us as we make the plans to break ground in the spring. It reminded me of a post I wrote a while ago about Autism and the Church so I am reposting it here with a few edits.
The incidence of autism has risen to 1 in every 100 children that are affected. The numbers are staggering considering ten years ago it was 1 in 10,000. The government is just now coming to terms with the epidemic and beginning to consider an autism strategy to deal with what will soon be a burgeoning population of adults with autism.
As a church and family of God, I think it important also to be prepared to deal with Autism in our assemblies as well.
Scripturally speaking there are a couple of instances I can recall, where people with disabilities needed help from friends. There was a paralytic man who wanted to see Jesus and his friends lowered him through the roof to the Lord. Another man had been sick for a long time and sat by a pool that could heal him but he had no friends to put him into the water. Autism is a fairly new epidemic and there isn’t really scriptural reference for handling Autism in the church. So most of what I say are practical helps.
First of all, there really has to be a genuine love for this special group of people and their families. It is not an easy disorder to deal with as a family and having the love of those in our assemblies makes a huge difference! Believe me, it can be a balm to the wounds of the heart to know that your family is truly loved.
That being said, an effort is required and it begins with educating yourselves. Don’t always depend on getting all the right answers from the family members either. I know I have been approached by people in meeting and it really is hard to get everything covered in a 5 minute conversation by the coat racks. So look it up on the internet. Read blogs by parents of children with autism and their every day struggles. There is actually a blog called The Inclusive Church with great, practical ideas on how to include kids with Autism!
Don’t ever make assumptions!!!! Autism is a disorder where children have odd behaviours and outbursts because of unusual things like a smell or buzzing lights. These parents have children that do not have a wheel chair or obvious physical features that indicate that there is a disability so they are used to being judged as terrible parents based on the behaviours of their children.
Asking parents what you can do to help is helpful to some degree. But I do have to admit that I sometimes don’t even know what to ask for with regards to help. Certainly give them time to come up with a list for everyone.
Some children with autism are darters. They run off very quickly and since they often do not understand dangers like cars and parking lots or even the concept of being lost. They will walk away and keep right on walking. So please stop a child with autism from walking/running out of the building without their parents or an adult. Depending on the severity of the child, you may have to grab their hand or physically block them but the danger of them running into a car is very serious. And I have been in situations where my son has gotten away from me and people have just watched him run past them with me running in hot pursuit. It sure would have been nice if that person had stopped him keeping me from having to run 1/2 a block to catch up to him.
Even if you haven’t done the research, please don’t be afraid to interact with children with autism. Even if they can’t talk, you can easily say “hey, kurt, I love your slinky. That looks like it’s a lot of fun to play with” “give me five” or “you are growing up. Look how tall you are now!” Don’t be afraid even if it is awkward for you talking to someone who may not understand or can’t respond or can’t respond properly. You will get better at it and you will get to know their likes and dislikes. It is far worse for you to ignore this family out of fear of what to say than to engage with them and experience a few awkward moments as you get used to it. This is part of showing that love and it is showing that you are making an effort!
This is a big one! I know that friendships in the assemblies are important to kids in that they have positive influences on each other and it encourages them to stay in the assemblies. PLEASE, PLEASE, encourage your children to include children with autism or even kids with social awkwardness. As a parent of children with social difficulties one thing that happens is, we mourn the loss of what we had dreamed for our children including social acceptance and popularity. I know that I had envisioned my children being social butterflies and having wonderful, lasting friendships in the assemblies that would carry into their adult life just like the friendships I had as a teenager. It is difficult for many of us parents to see our kids struggling and being left out of the other kids sleepovers, movie nights, birthday parties and outings because of their social awkwardness, it just breaks our hearts.
I think it is a help to a parent to have their children’s peers teaching their child social rules and what is acceptable and what isn’t. I think it may even be more affective than a parent teaching them not to mention how beneficial it is for the “normal” kids to be making an effort to include these kids on their own personal growth.
Social clicks and special activities amongst them that continually exclude others who are not so popular aren’t necessarily encouraged but are present sometimes. When this happens, kids with Autism don’t get a chance to benefit from social learning opportunities around their peers and the social kids don’t get a chance to learn the ability to socialize with kids with Autism. It’s a lose/lose situation.
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:46-48
I realize how difficult this can be in taking a lot of folks out their comfort zones to reach out and make an effort to the people affected by autism. But if you can just imagine for a minute how much these families are struggling and really what you may be giving up is nothing compared to the daily struggles they face. You are really only risking growth and an opportunity to truly reflect Christ in your life and an opportunity to minister to Christ Himself. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matt 25:40