How can churches help families and those who have autism?
Written on 11th Apr 2014 by Sylvia Lowery
When Alex was small there was a point when he was terrified of public buildings. He went through a time of not wanting to go into shops, restaurants or even Church. This was a particularly difficult time for us as a family. I really felt isolated and cut off from friendship and support. It was no-one’s fault but it was difficult. I felt as though my world was falling apart. I remember praying that God would help me, yet I felt as though God wasn’t listening.
What can Churches do to help families who have a child with autism ?
Before a family receive a diagnosis they will often have to deal with severe behavioural problems. This can be perplexing and frightening. At this time families need to receive love and acceptance without judgement of their parenting skills. If you have a family in your church whose child is demonstrating behaviour problems please bear this in mind.
Listen to the family; don’t make judgments even in your heart that would suggest the mother or parents are exaggerating. Be willing to make changes to help the family to feel part of the Church. Look for ways to give the members a better understanding of autism. Offer support in practical ways. Maybe help with siblings, or make a meal or offer to do some ironing.
Don’t judge by the external
Autism is a hidden disability, often the difficulties and anxieties occur after the individual with autism has kept it together in a social situation. It can be so difficult when this isn’t recognised, well meaning people will seek to reassure the parents that the child is fine and this can lead to a feeling of not being believed.
Don’t take offence
Individuals with autism struggle with social skills and may on occasion say things that are socially unacceptable. We are told to deal with one another in love, and to believe the best of others.
Use clear straightforward language
An individual with autism struggles to understand metaphors. Try to use concrete explanations in preaching or Sunday school lessons. Biblical teaching such as “I am the door, ” need a lot of explanation. Alex always struggled with the idea of having faith the size of a mustard seed. He took it literally and couldn’t understand the concept. He kept worrying about his faith being smaller than a speck of dust.
Helping adults with high functioning autism
Our churches may have members who have high functioning autism. These individuals may never have received a diagnosis. Others may have been told they have autism. Autism is a complex neurological condition. Many individuals who have Asperger Syndrome may also have times of depression and anxiety. It would be good to ask a person with autism to speak to the church about their experiences. Alex is available to speak at your church and to give his testimony. If you would like to know more get in touch.
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