I wake up to a familiar kick in the back, followed by a whiny scream that is like an electrical current jolting me from sleep. Katie can’t find whatever object she crawled into my bed with in the middle of the night. Once we find the puzzle piece, spoon, or sweetener packet she soothed herself to sleep with, I am vigorously pulled through the house to get Katie’s yogurt, the only food she’ll currently accept. I put the yogurt on her plate, watch her walk away to get another tub of yogurt and try to explain that she still has food available. I messed up and gave her vanilla yogurt. She can’t tell it’s on the plate because of her vision issues. By the time we get Katie clean, dressed and ready to go out the door, she has removed her shoes and socks (something she’ll do again in the car) and started her whine because she’s misplaced her toy spatula. In the car, Bryan gets frustrated as Katie pulls him down to get the toy she threw in the floorboard or pushes him away when he invades her space. Once our family reaches church, we are already exhausted.
What the church does when we arrive will either make our day better or much worse.
It’s hard to go out when you have a child with autism. People in restaurants and grocery stores don’t want to be near the family with the “out-of-control” kid. We had an older couple get up and move to another part of the restaurant when Katie had a meltdown. I felt so badly, I bought their breakfast. We visited a church during my sabbatical, placed Katie in a classroom, then returned to the classroom after worship to learn she had been moved to a separate room because she was a distraction. People will ask how old Katie is, then give us the “you must be horrible parents” look.
The last thing families impacted by autism need is to be judged.
So what can Alsbury do for the families in our community that feel going to church is just too hard? First, love and accept EVERY member of the family as they are. Ask the family how we can help the child with autism feel more comfortable. They know the things that make their child tense. They also know what soothes their child. Ask. It will show that we care. Public schools have figured out that kids with autism need to feel safe and accommodated. Churches (including Alsbury) need to make efforts to do the same. We need individuals to be buddies for kids who need extra help. Autism is not a cookie cutter disorder where all kids behave the same way. Autism is often an uncomfortable and at times frightening disorder. Kids with autism are trying to cope the best they know how. As a church, we can’t turn our back on the significant and growing number of families impacted by autism. Autism can be intimidating. Some adults fear working with kids who flap their arms or can’t communicate verbally. Since ignorance results in fear, Alsbury needs to offer training and seek out ways to improve our ministry to families impacted by special needs.
This is a call to action! Who will join me? Contact me at email@example.com to become part of the Special Needs Ministry Team.