Autism and the Community: Looking at Church

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Father with babe in arms after church.

Article first published as Autism and the Community: Looking at Church on Technorati.

I'm always concerned when I start to talk about religion and churches. Religion is a very personal subject, and one not to be taken lightly. Those who believe, whatever their chosen religion is, take is seriously. And one thing that makes a church so powerful to the followers is the community they support. So, as such, it is a perfect way to view society and it's view of Autism.

I'm bringing this up because of an essay I found in the Associated Baptist Press on a mother's concern of not being able to bring her 17 year old son with Autism to church. She mentions the need to have someone there to help her son while he attends worship sessions. The concern is touching, and illustrates the needs of a family in any community: support.

Parents who are religious want their children to also be religious. Just like parents who go to college want their children to go to college. It's all about wanting their children to have the same close relationship with Spirituality that they have come to enjoy, because they see it as a benefit in life. But, if they are denied that option because of a disability, they get frustrated.

So why are they not allowed to church? Well, children with Autism tend to be a bit boisterous at times, or at least that is one way to put it. And in a church, there are generally traditions that need to be followed. Children on the Spectrum may not be able to follow these traditions.

One example that springs to mind is in the pilot episode of Parenthood, where the son is unable to attend a function because of his inability to be near candles. The grandfather just thinks the child is being irrational, and finally the father has to set him straight about what Autism is, and how he will need a little support. Moments like that ring so true to me, because we all feel them as parents with a child who is disabled.

Congregations that I have attended (both my own and as a guest of others), have set traditions and processes in place that are expected. And sometimes a child on the Spectrum is unable to conform to those expectations. One example is the need for silence during a sermon or prayer, and children with Autism are unpredictable when it comes to remaining quiet.

So what is the community to do? Honestly, the best thing is to prepare the congregation in general, and those who teach in particular, with the realities of Autism. If your congregation is close with a strong sense of community, most are understanding. I've found, in my own congregation I attend, many are understanding with my son's outbursts.

And when teaching a child with Autism, it's pretty much the same as teaching them in a secular school or environment. Often parents feel the need to attend their child's class to help them manage the experience, but it shouldn't be necessary. If the teacher is aware of the situation, and is told how best to manage the child, often that can be enough to resolve any issues. Again, siting my own son's experience, his class has multiple teachers, one assigned just for him to learn. And, I might add, she does a fabulous job.

In the end, it all comes down to the community. And with religion in particular, those who have chosen a belief and to follow a congregation feel the need of the support from that same congregation. If they don't get that support, then the feeling of pain is incredibly intense. And this same concept of needing support can be said for all communities: Scouting, political affiliation, Neighborhood, city, county, State, or even Nation. Religion is just one microcosm that illustrates a greater need for help.