The Voice of Ability
By Matt Wiseman
Going to church can be difficult for a family with a child with autism.
In addition to having limited verbal and social skills, large crowds can trigger behaviors that might be considered inappropriate, such as outbursts, tantrums, or meltdowns. Such behavior may be the child’s only way to communicate needs, wants, and frustrations.
When children with autism have an “overload ” in a public place, strangers stare and may make an offensive comment. As a father of an autistic child, I can tell you that in a church setting it can be difficult to maintain order. Many do not understand these overloads, and many are quick to pass judgment, thinking you are a bad parent and your child is out of control.
Some parents might think that the best solution is to stop going to church. That is not the best solution, because the mission of the church is to bring people to Christ and to provide people the opportunity to gain spiritual growth.
The rates for autism are growing at an alarming rate. The time for acceptance is long overdue.
One of the best ways to help families with autistic children feel more comfortable at church is to broaden the knowledge that people have of someone who has autism. I would start by placing an article in the church bulletin in which the church acknowledges the presence of individuals with special needs.
The church bulletin can open up pathways of communication between the congregation and its parishioners with special needs. The church can explain what autism is and what to expect with autism, as this will allow the congregation to understand and accept people of special needs as well as their families.