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 fathers were preachers, elders, deacons and whose mothers were Sunday School Teachers and Ladies Bible Class members. These parents of children with disabilities are aching for their child to know the same love of a church family as they did.
I can vouch for this describes my family. Our oldest son has Autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know that there are often barriers that prevent children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. So what are the barriers and how can we, as parents and church leaders, accommodate by emulating Christs ministry to all?
Church is a large social gathering that in itself, difficult for anyone with autism. The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody intends. Sensory, Anxiety, etc. It is another potentially overwhelming situation (like school, grocery shopping, etc.) that is asked of autistic kids on a regular basis. Unlike most people, they don’t leave church feeling refreshed and renewed to face the week ahead.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:1-3
As a parent of a child with a disability, know that you have been prepared for the road less traveled. God will not give you more than you can bear and He (the Almighty) prepared you, as he did your child, for this journey.
Below is a statement my son Samuel said when he was very young and we have it printed and hanging by our front door:
Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package…think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.Samuel Allen
I would agree with Sam. As medical science begins to unravel and understand the brain and the effects of autism, we as a society and especially as the Church, should subside our fear of ‘different’ and embrace God’s beautiful design in worship together.
The following was presented at Abilene Christian University, September 17th, during Summit 2019. May you know you are never alone and as with all things…the answer resides in living like Christ. In the following presentation, we explore his teachings and apply them toward raising a family with a disability in the church today.