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  • Writer's pictureDanielle James

How church leaders can help support autism parents - Acceptance

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

So church should be a welcoming place to all, Jesus made a point of being with those who did not fit into the social norms. He socialised with tax collectors! He saved the gentiles (non Jews) - He was not afraid of not following social protocols and He did not look down on others.

This is the first part of a series of posts on how churches can help support families of children with autism/additional needs. First, we will be looking at Creating a Culture of Acceptance. It is written from my perspective as a parent of children with autism and is meant as an encouragement to help this part of the community.

title, childlike drawn picture of church, dark grey background and website address
How church leaders can help support autism parents

So what happens in church, when your autistic child behaves oddly - will there be stares? will there be tuts? will there be judgement on your parenting? What happens when they go into their kids group? Can the leaders cope with a child that is a little different?

Parents with autistic children can already feel so isolated that coming into church, can feel like a massive step of faith, in itself. Jesus will accept them, but will the church? will his people?

A culture of acceptance in the congregation

This is so important. No one wants to feels like others are judging or looking down their nose at them. Having said that people who attend church are not all Christians, some are there to explore, its just where they go on a Sunday morning, they want the church to teach their children morals, parents want to get their children into the faith school or feel obligated to attend because of another family member/spouse, the people there can be there for any number of reasons.

Each person will be at a different part of their faith journey and will attend with their own perspective from life. We all need to be on board and mindful of others, whether we are the leader, the parent or observer, to create a culture of acceptance. However, I feel leaders can help with this...

At our last church, the leader may a point of telling all parents not to worry if their children made noises, they were children and that's what they do - he has a microphone. He also addressed the congregation and told them 'stares & glares' are not helpful. He was right - they are not. It doesn't change the situation at all, all it does is make parents feel bad and unaccepted, which is not what Jesus did.

It takes time to train children to sit still and be quiet, they do not come into this world programmed. Be gracious. Jesus met with people where they were at, we need to do the same. When parents dedicate/baptise their babies, we the church agree to help raise them to know Jesus. Jesus accepts people where they are, He loves them, He gave His life for them. Be gracious to others, as you yourself have received much grace. If you cannot concentrate with low level noise/movement, move seats - do not glare, just move seats and not in a stroppy sulky way to make sure everyone knows how displeased you are.

Would you want to be treated like that because the person next to you didn't approve of your clothes/scent/employment/status/singing/prayer? Cultivate empathy for others. Make it a sermon if needed on treating people who are different whether that's stage in life, values or disability with love, as Jesus did.

We (Christians) all want people to know Christ. Therefore, the church needs to be ready to accept all people, not make them feel like they have to do x y z to be accepted, not to embarrass or shame them into the behaviour you find acceptable but accepted, as Jesus loves and accepts.

Be prepared

Learn about the difficulties families face, when raising children with autism. Autism is a spectrum, so therefore all children with autism will be different and different strategies will be needed for each child. It is much easier to have empathy for someone if you understand. Please don't underestimate a person's autism - you will see a small snapshot on a Sunday service and whilst it may appear there are no difficulties - they could return home to a massive meltdown trying to be 'neuro-typical' and fit in for that short amount of time.

Don't think that it doesn't apply to you or your church, be ready and prepared. Unfortunately, due to the political systems in the UK, families who have children with autism or suspect their child has autism, are being failed. So many cutbacks in health, education and social care, means they are not getting the support they need. It means fighting for medical and care services, crazy waiting times (years for diagnosis) and even fighting for the right to attend school. It's a heartbreaking situation to be in. Families need our support. Pray for them!

Back when David Cameron was Prime minister, he talked about how in this time of austerity - churches needed to step up and fill in for where services would see reduced funding. We, (families with children with autism) are feeling the devastating effects these cuts have had and over the years it has become worse. Part of me, does feel that this is all part of a long term political plan to destabilise the NHS so that we {country} will all want and be ready for medical privatisation but that's another post in itself...

Whilst austerity is apparently over, presently there are no plans to increase funding in these much needed areas. Pray for this!

Cultivate a heart for those on the edge

I can understand that perhaps helping children with difficulties, may seem scary - but it needn't be. Perhaps they have behaviours that other parents worry will influence their children, perhaps they have no idea on how to integrate and have no idea how to mix? God is so much bigger than this - teach your church attending parents not to fear and trust God with their children. Train your children's workers and volunteers, have strategies in place. (I will post further about this). Pray for your congregation to have a heart for acceptance for ALL people and if you personally struggle, pray that God will give YOU a heart, an understanding, empathy to help and accept those who may act a little different and may require some changes to the way things are done. This is okay, following Jesus often requires us to change, as we become more like Him.

simple hand drawn outline of a church in white on a dark brown, wood grain background
A Church for all

Parents battle tirelessly for their children to have the same rights as typical children, they need support too. Be ready for how you can support them as a church community. (I will post more about this later.) Each church member has different gifts to offer, find out about them and tap in. This could be an exciting new ministry where new gifts and talents are released and potential for a whole new community to come to know Christ. View this as positive, not with fear. There is a whole community that needs Jesus love.

It is so important - prepare your congregation for acceptance, which includes change in how things are done. Pray for a change in hearts, to be ready and prepared for helping those who are not typical. This is the first step in supporting families with autism.

Do you feel your church offers acceptance to children with autism or related/other needs? Do they help support the family as a whole?

Below are links to the rest of this series:

How church leaders can help support families with autism children Part 1: Acceptance

How church leaders can help support families with autism children Part 2: Building

How church leaders can help support families with autism children Part 3: Training

How church leaders can help support families with autism children Part 4: The Service

How church leaders can help support families with autism children Part 5: Pastoral Care

#purposefilledstories #acceptance #church #christian #beprepared #services #meltdowns #culture #autism #additionalneeds #children #prayer #pray #childrenwithautism #parentingchildrenwithautism

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