And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Autism, an Opportunity for the Church
Saints and Friends,
A good friend of mine, Donavon, is a tremendously insightful pastor. He is also the father of an autistic child. Recently, I was able to speak to him on the topic of “What can a church do to accommodate families who have special needs children?”
I have long been concerned for those with needs we may not understand. Having family that is autistic and after working with an autistic youth who has become an Eagle Scout, I can attest that much more should be done to minister to entire families whom often feel left out, misunderstood, and long for a spiritual connection. It would be my desire to equip our church, nay, every church at some level, to be prepared to warmly embrace families dealing with autism.
When we love on these special people we actually open ourselves to a great joy. Part of Christian love is loving those who may not be able to reciprocate. For this love is love indeed. Many families of autistic children are taxed of energy and need encouragement. God is glorified always as we compassionately minister to the least of these.
As a church is called to put love into action, we must strive to be a fountainhead of grace and compassion. Often we miss opportunities to do so either out of inexperience, lack of knowledge, or a failure to prepare to meet a need. I have often failed at each of these points.
Thus, I would like to present to you the advice of my friend. I have found his words to be a pivotal point for ministering to a forgotten share of our society.
1. Give your congregation information on autism. You would be surprised how many educated adults still believe autism can be "controlled" by firmer discipline or parenting.
2. Have your Sunday School teachers trained in being prepared for working with special needs children. Give them a plan of action for helping a child in meltdown mode, which most generally requires an assistant in each class.
3. Have a "safe-place" where parents can step out of services with a child who is in emotional meltdown.
4. Reassure families in greetings, print and your own pulpit demeanor that a special-needs child in the service is a blessing, not a distraction.
5. Include a non-stigmatizing way for families to identify themselves as special needs. A simple added statement on your information cards that asks; "Does your family have any special care needs that we can be aware of and serve?" is a great ask.
6. Identify congregants in your church who have any training educationally and professionally to help create a church action plan for meeting needs.
7. Host a respite night for special needs families on your church field. Most parents would love a 3-hour break for a simple dinner and movie, provided they had a safe place to leave their children who were fully and superbly supervised. Enlist helpers from Boyce as an assist to this ministry.
8. Have an open forum meeting for special needs families to come, again with some child-care provided where you gift them with something of love and ask them how your church might better accommodate or minister to them. Tell them you’re not afraid to be known as the "autism church". 90-95% of special needs families are unchurched because of lack of church accommodation to meet their needs.
9. Do an autism audit of your facilities. The #1 safety concern for an autistic child is elopement/entrapment. They will run out of the building, or hide within it in dangerous confined spaces when sensory overwhelmed. Kids die every year from drowning and tight space asphyxiation from these events. Your building and grounds have to be secure if you are going to be intentional about ministering to the autism community.
10. Open your doors for the local autism support group. If there isn't one, pray to form one. 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys) on your church field are already diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
11. Least importantly, read my blog post "Job, Jesus and Autism" @ www.beaconhillbaptist.com for a parent/pastoral perspective.
Hope this is insightful and helpful;