The Church and Autism

This is blog post #2 in my series: “The _______ and Autism”

First was “The Government and Autism” and I have thoughts of writing about Public Schools, Insurance Companies, the Private Sector…if you have any ideas or topics you want me to spew about…just let me know.  Always looking for good topics where I can pretend I’m an “expert.” 🙂

Remember…my thoughts, my opinions, my blog…goal is to share, provoke, start discussion…enjoy.

The church my family attends is literally a God-send.  For those of you who don’t attend a church or don’t have a church family…get one.  Of course variety of reasons but when it comes to having a special needs child, you need a group that will support you…and for us, our church is such a group.

I’ve heard horror stories of people being asked to leave a church service or the church entirely because they have a child on the spectrum…and that makes me sick.

For us, informing our church about our son, who has autism, was such a blessing and relief.  It wasn’t always like that.  We tried to “hide” our son thinking it was a learning delay or just the way 2-year-old children act…but when we finally let people know, many people came and walked alongside us and supported us and for that we are eternally grateful.

As a whole…from what I’ve seen/experienced/heard…the church is failing the autism community.

Hard pill to swallow isn’t it?  Again…the church is FAILING the autism community.

Now I know there are programs and churches out there that have a “Special Needs Ministry”…not sure how I feel about that…why does a group that is already stigmatized need to be further stigmatized and segregated from typical members in the church?  But I do applaud those churches out there that at least attempt to meet those special needs members where they are.

I realized my frustration when we started promoting our book, “Look At My Eyes.”  My wife and I are open and vocal about our faith in Christ and how our faith and dependence on Him through the early stages of learning about our son’s diagnosis allowed us to deal with it as best we could.  We discuss what our relationship with Christ means to us in our lives, our marriage and our raising our children…and it’s all in the book.

I was surprised to receive such a “mehhh” response from churches across the DFW-Metroplex when we approached them about having us visit and speak and sell books.  I researched all the large churches and wrote them letters (not emails!) and sent them books.

Our goal has never been to make money off the book.  We’re so in the hole it’s not even funny–and that’s okay because we wrote the book to bless others going through similar situations.  We wrote the book to help as many people as possible…not make a buck.

So here we are…giving churches our book, telling them we’d love to come and speak FOR FREE, to help minister as much as possible to families, to help train Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, administrators, members…anyone in the church who might need or just want to know how to help the autism community in their congregation.

Do you know how many churches took us up on that?  Two.  I probably sent out 20 books.  Two.  And one of those was our church.  The other bought 4 books and  that was about it.

Bitter?  Heck yeah I’m bitter!  The autism community is not being served or paid attention by the church and that’s a shame.

When our son was younger and we’d visit a friend’s or family’s church we were horrified to take William to the nursery.  He didn’t have the ability to sit with us in the church service, but it was such an ordeal trying to explain to these nursery workers how to handle him if he has an episode or whatever.

Finally we just stopped going to churches where we didn’t know the nursery staff.

And that’s a shame.

The church needs to do a better job at educating their ministers, teachers, workers how to handle the simplest of situations.  The church needs to offer training and support to parents of families with special needs children.

The church needs to encourage “typical” members to engage with those other members who might be a bit different.

What if a young family moved to a new town and had a child on the spectrum and was looking for a church family to call home…so they start looking around and one Sunday they try one and when they drop off their child for Sunday School or Children’s Church they either have to explain how to handle their child or are so embarrassed they just get up and leave?

That’s not what the church is all about.  That’s not making all comers feel safe and secure.

Shame on you church for not doing everything possible to make people feel at home.  Shame on you church for not taking the time to teach your child workers the basics of how to relate and handle a child with autism.  Shame on you church for not taking advantage of free resources to teach your congregation how to love and cherish those on the spectrum.

Melanie and I don’t have all the answers.  We are definitely not experts on all things autism.  BUT I think we have something to say and I think it could help those dealing with life with a child on the spectrum.

We’d love to share our story, our book, our ideas and mostly our faith with your church.  Together we can discuss how to make the church a safe and attractive place for families thirsty to hear the good new of Jesus Christ and to know their autistic child will be loved.

To read more blogs from Seth and TheFowler4Group, check out their Website (www.lookatmyeyes.com) and while you’re there, buy a copy of their book, “Look At My Eyes”.  Or find them on YouTube.  To contact TheFowler4 Group email: info@thefowler4group.com…oh and they just released their book inSPANISH as well…buy it now!

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11 responses to “The Church and Autism

  1. We were already leaving our church (dysfunction, several pastors in several years) when our son was diagnosed. We tried a big church with a special needs ministry but didn’t feel welcome into the church as a whole, it was just too big. Went to a small church where people were really nice but when we took 5 yr old ASD son to program during worship, the leader didn’t look at us or talk to us at all. It was weird and humiliating. Kids just stared at me and my son the whole hour and I just tried my best while the woman avoided eye contact. Now not sure what to do. Hard to find right church fit anyway now much harder. My mother goes to small church and volunteers to sit with special needs adults when needed during service. I am always hoping to find someone like my mom at a church, but maybe she really is one of a kind.

  2. So sorry to hear your story and your pain. I have heard other stories similar to yours. It pains me to hear of houses of the Lord that aren’t able to handle children like ours with autism. I’m grateful for our church in Fort Worth that isn’t perfect but is certainly loving and welcoming and teaching the gospel…but I’m afraid that if a visitor with an ASD child came to our church–we wouldn’t be prepared or equipped to handle the situation.

  3. You are right on!

    We have been praying for a church, and it was very difficult to find one that meets our family needs.

    What is the name of the church your family attends?

    Also I have joined a wonderful support group. It’s called my autismteam.com I have mentioned your blog and book on my page today.

    Thank you again for reminding us we are not alone.

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Hi I have heard stories like this and I believe autism need fellowship which is why I created this group for churches to understand us better. I as a person who struggles with autism understand. For those who want fellowship with autism believers my facebook site is https://www.facebook.com/ChristianAspergerAutismGroup and my youtube page is http://www.youtube.com/user/christianautismgroup?feature=results_main and my yahoo page is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ChristianAspergerAutism/

  5. I have given up on church. My boy is 8 now and well toilet trained but it took time. He was still just getting the hang of it last time we went and the church staff just didn’t know what to do with an almost 5yo still in diapers. Did he go with kids his age or with the youngers still in diapers? It wasn’t worth how out of place we felt.
    Sad.

  6. so sorry to hear your story. One reason I wrote that blog was to hear stories like yours…so that those in churches would realize how vastly important the church is for families with special needs children–and yet how those families aren’t having their needs met. I hope one day you can find it in your heart to reunite with a church family–so your son will have an opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and will be loved for who he is by the body of believers.

  7. I’m so thankful I foundyour blog! Next week I begin working with an 18 yr old with autism at our church. This young man brightens my day everytime I see him in morning worship. He loves worship service because of the singing, however, I noticed how tough class can be since he has to sit with mom in the adult class. I finally approached mom & explained what a joy he is to me when I see him enjoying the music. We chatted&I offered to work with him during class even if it meant playing music & singing the whole class. We took a few months of him & I just getting to know each other by face. Mom feels we are ready for next step, so next week he & I move to our own classroom! I have no experience working with children with autism, but I am more than willing to learn so he has the opportunity to enjoy church also! I’m trying to ready myself & the classroom as much as I can, and have asked God to lead me! Your blog is so very helpful in helping me understand so much!!! God bless you & your family!!

  8. Would you mind sharing which church you attend? I have been searching for and praying for years for a place that will welcome my son. I thought I’d found one in Fort Worth that advertises a special needs buddy program. I attended for several months until I felt certain that was the place for my family. My son had even started asking to go with me, but when I approached the special needs director about a buddy for the mainstream Sunday School class, I was told they didn’t have them anymore b/c people just aren’t comfortable around “those kids.” They wanted to place him in a babysitting room with very severely disabled children who weren’t getting any lessons about the Bible. My son is very verbal and high functioning, but I was told basicially that this was my only option. You may email me privately at cs-mom@hotmail.com I met Melanie several years ago. My son attended ABA therapy with William in Arlington.

    Thank you.

  9. Erin Gillette

    Glad to know that it’s not just us (but it still sucks). We left our church after one of the Pre-K “teachers” informed my husband that our son was not welcome there. The pastor and children’s ministry leader were unaware that she had said that but even after talking to them about it she’s still teaching and he’d still have her for class. So when a friend, my old youth pastor, opened a church plant we started volunteering there (in the pre-k/early elementary classes). He and his wife are pretty open to the idea of inclusive church. They’ve seen the struggles that we’ve had with taking Riley to church. It’s a slow process though since we haven’t even hit 6 months yet as a church. So we’re just trying to shape our classes to be ASD friendly. Trying to incorporate some sensory fun into the lesson (God bless whoever had the brilliant idea of sensory/busy boxes!) and try to remember that “fair” doesn’t always mean equal. Some kids need more attention and that’s what’s fair for them. Some need to keep a play item in group time, it’s what they need so who cares? All these churches talk about “meeting people where they are.” But they don’t really seem to actually follow through when the child (or adult) doesn’t fit into their little box. Praying that more pastors/ministry teams get the message!

  10. Just left our North suburb FW church today and Googled “Fort Worth churches autism” and found you, out of frustration for the same reasons as you. We go to an amazing church with amazing people and still no answers for how we bring our son closer to God. I pray about it. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without prayer. But I’ll keep the faith.
    I commend your efforts to shed light on this subject. Although you have had rejection, we have to start somewhere. It gives a pathway for others to follow and to press on.
    Not only do our children need support but so do the parents and siblings. I would love to see a buddy/shadow system so that our children can be integrated and loved and accepted for who they are.

  11. If any of you commenters on here still get notifications and are hoping for a reply as to the church Seth is talking about, it’s Fort Worth Presbyterian (PCA).

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