Church Inclusion Increases for Autism Families


Church Autism

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Many autism families would like to be able to attend church, but have given up on that possibility due to the obvious stress and strain of their child having to sit still for an hour (or more) or properly behave in a children’s ministry. Missing not only the worship aspect, but the support of a church community is difficult and isolating for them. And of course, people of faith want their child with autism to engage in a spiritual life as well.

In Ohio, a couple versed in social work and special education have created Through the Roof Ministries to train churches to successfully bring everyone into the the fold. And as of late, more churches across the nation are responding to the special needs of families with autism and other issues by creating alternative worship programs for them, or assigning a buddy to help them get through the service. 

Inherent difficulties include access as the church needs to buy a van to make sure everyone can come. It’s very labor-intensive and requires a lot of effort by families and volunteers. It also requires grace on the part of the congregation to withstand the inherent disruption. Education is key to fostering this acceptance.

To facilitate autism inclusion in church, one Missouri autism mother has initiated the first conference on “Disability and the Church,” bringing together keynote speakers to address what autism is and how the church can minister to these individuals. Ministers expressing frustration on how to reach the concrete autism mind with such an abstract concept as God will be given ideas on the topic.

My personal experience with these issues began when a friend with sons on the spectrum invited me and my son to her church (his twin brother had zero interest in attending). I hadn’t been to church in a while, but I was up for it because my son was very interested in it at the time.

The first service we attempted was a positive experience because there were different stations you could go to and engage in activities such as lighting a candle, dropping a stone in water to represent letting go of some personal hurt, receiving a blessing, etc. Active and creative, it went very well for my son and was a great experience.

The next service we tried was a traditional one and he started having an anxiety attack almost immediately, so we had to leave. It was the same dynamic as him sitting still for a lecture in a classroom — he can’t bear statically absorbing the words of an individual addressing a large group. As he put it, "the more interactive, the better." 

On Easter weekend, that same church threw a laser tag party for kids of all ages. I knew both of my sons would love it, but my previously abstaining son stood outside and refused to go in while his twin freaked out that they’d miss it. I finally tracked down my friend to bring my stony, red-faced son inside. It worked out and my boys ended up having a blast. It was a turning point for my recalcitrant son who declared it to be “the least churchy church ever!”

The Lord works in mysterious ways, even going so far as to host a laser party for His children and allowing involvement for everyone.

Hopefully, more congregations around the country will continue to follow the examples in Missouri and my hometown and implement similar inclusionary programs in the future.

7 Responses to Church Inclusion Increases for Autism Families

  1. Pat says:

    I plan to be a Minister to Children and Adults on the Spectrum, as a High Functioning Autist myself. I would love to maybe start teaching Saturday or Sunday School, to help start preparing me, but I have no idea where or how to start. I am a fulltime online student at GCU, unemployed, looking to Leave NYC because NYC is Not conducive to a Good Quality of Life for Anyone on the Spectrum. I have lived in 7 different States so Far. TY

  2. Susan says:

    You might use the link to Through the Roof ministries and see if they have any suggestions. Good luck to you, Susan Moffitt

  3. jessica ondrejka says:

    Check out a website called http://www.Snappin.org . they are for helping churches set up for a special needs ministry.

  4. Mark says:

    Pat: have you looked where you are? It may be that the church you attned is a place where you could try something like a Saturday or Sunday School right where you are to develop the idea and practice.

    To all: Some day I hope we can develop approaches that are not so far from traditional worship as a laser tag party (although it sounds that was effective, if nothing else in helping change the emotional impression of church on those who enjoyed it)…the point being to create an experience that truly connects people on the spectrum with God. Like most ministry, it will take those dealing with the pain and challenge of autism to somehow lift up their heads and minister to others before we see large change. God grant me the grace to help.

  5. Susan says:

    Laser tag is but one event at this church and it happens occasionally. They have a lively inclusive Sunday Program, traditional services that kids attend with helpers, and an experimental worship service which is small group and intimate. The laser tag is valuable because a lot of these kids in this ministry have problematic home lives and/or disabilities of one kind or another, and having them be able to come together under the roof of a church and have FUN definitely was its own unique kind of communion. Kids on the spectrum get left out of many of those kinds of events that neurotypical children take for granted and it was a blessing for my sons to participate.

  6. silvia verga says:

    hi Pat. I have a ministry for autistic children in NYC. I would love to know more of your ideas, perhaps we can bless one another reaching out for utism children and families

  7. Susan Moffitt says:

    Pastor, Blessings to you and yours. Thanks for writing.

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  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
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