The church's response to families with autism

I have been asked to leave church more than once because my son is autistic and can be disruptive. It is painful for our family to miss church, but we have spent more years outside of the church than inside.

By Theresa Christian

Families with autism need to feel welcome in the church in order to be healthy and strong. There are a lot of people like Kevin who need the healing powers church can bring.

Kevin is 17. He struggles with autism, yet that doesn’t mean his spiritual needs are unlike ours. Sadly he is unable to access them because of his disability. He is one of many autistic children who lack a spiritual home.

Kevin has attended Sunday school before, but only when I was able to sit with him. By doing that I sacrificed worship myself.

My son needs supervision 24 hours a day and someone willing to be trained to understand his autism. Kevin requires a structured schedule to keep him and others safe.

Kevin has limited speech, meaning he mainly answers to yes and no questions and needs verbal prompts to help him use words and sentences. He is like a second-grader emotionally, mentally and socially, but is 6-foot-2 and weighs 230 pounds. He is like a 5-year-old trying to fly a plane.

One child out of 150 is diagnosed with autism. As the rate continues to increase, more and more families feel alienated from church.

I was told once by a clergyman that my son did not need church because the hand of God was on him. Isn't the hand of God on everyone? This was neither helpful nor supportive, because it did not address our needs as a family. I felt spiritually lost. Were we all meant to not need church? I have met many families with similar experiences. The church doesn't need to leave out families for any reason.

Most Christians take church membership for granted. Being a part of a church fellowship is rarely seen as a privilege. Many churches work on marketing the church without even thinking about people who actually need and desire communal prayer.

Instead of turning a blind eye, it is time we love and welcome others as Christ does. Everyone needs Christ and a church to pray in. As Christians we have a responsibility to share the good news with all.

Churches should know that God accepts autistic children. Families with autistic children would be able to share their love and prayers in Christ if they felt welcomed. All people are comforted knowing they belong somewhere.

Those with autism can be taught about Jesus, God and the Bible. My son wants to learn on his developmental level but is challenged because of his age and size. Kevin can learn about God at home, but how does that teach him about church? Our churches need to be the beacon of light, hope and faith for families with autism.

We have millions of lost sheep and lost coins that are not being counted and not being missed at church. They are people, yet little by little they disappear from the church, school, home and community. When they die nobody except their caregivers even notice. I don’t want my son to disappear.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.