Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. A new study has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. Families of children with other disabilities are missing from the pews as well. These are the parents who grew up in the church. Whose parents were preachers, elders, Sunday school teachers, and ladies Bible class members. These parents are aching for their children to know the same love of a church family as they did.
This certainly describes my family. Our oldest son has autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know about the barriers preventing children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. What are these barriers, and how can the church accommodate?
First, an understanding of God’s design is a great place for any church body to start. Differences can be frightening. Learning that my son’s brain is physically wired differently than that of a neurotypical truly fascinated me with God’s design!
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exod. 4:11)
In Luke 14:15-24 there is a story of how the church should welcome everyone. This story shows Jesus hosting a celebratory meal where the disabled are invited guests, just as those without disabilities are. The good news of salvation is that we ALL belong.
Here are a few suggestions for creating a sanctuary for these families at church, plus some suggestions for the family seeking sanctuary.
Creating Sanctuary: Suggestions for the Church
Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. (Luke 14:21)
Church is a large social gathering that is, in itself, difficult for anyone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody intends. Like school or grocery shopping, church is another potentially overwhelming situation autistic kids must endure on a regular basis.