Autism and the church are not always a winning combination. Different Dream welcomes guest blogger Laurie McLean today who writes about her family’s autism and the church success story. She also provides resources and ideas to aid families who want to make autism and the church a combination as successful as peanut butter and jelly.
Autism and the Church: A Success Story
Parenting a special needs child can often feel like a battle. We constantly fight for services, support, understanding, tolerance, acceptance, connection, and the list goes on.
Early on, when our son was little and newly diagnosed, we had a negative experience with autism and the church not being very compatible with one another.
It was a traumatic experience of not feeling like we belonged and that our son was not welcome.
As a result, we did not feel very confident about finding a new place that our family could worship.
We wanted our son to be accepted. We prayed he would be included. But our earlier experience left us doubtful.
We knew that we could not just walk through the doors of a new church and blend right in. We would have to work to ensure a smooth transition.
It took some time, and some effort on our part, but we were able to find a new church that accepted our family with open arms.
Here are the three best tips that helped us blend autism and church into a story of inclusion and love.
Be proactive about communication
Before we simply dropped our son off at Sunday School, we took the time to speak with the teachers. We modeled our communication on the summary sheet we have used in school as part of his IEP.
To that end, we shared concrete examples of strategies that have worked as well as tips for how to interact with him and get him to comply.
In addition to the direct, frequent communication with the child workers, we also initiated larger conversations with the Youth Director to ensure there was an understanding of the big picture.
Be open to questions
It is easy to feel defensive as a special needs parent. Often we feel like we need to explain our child’s behavior or make excuses. Special needs parents may carry a lot of guilt.
However, it is helpful if we can remain open to questions. In fact, if someone is asking questions, then the chances are they care enough to want to hear the answer so they can help.
At first, I had mixed feelings if anyone asked me anything about my son’s diagnosis or how to best work with him. I wanted them to treat him like any other child.
But, that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to him, to me or to the person asking. I learned to welcome questions and answer them openly and gladly.
I saw them as people who wanted to provide my son with love and care in the best way possible for him.
Focus on the child’s gifts
Yes, my son has autism. But he also has a lot of gifts. He knew how to read at three years old. He could memorize Bible verses and knew all of the books of the Bible (in order) at a very young age.
He is honest and loyal. He wants to please and do the right thing. There are many gifts that accompany his autism.
Our church family recognized those gifts and made use of them. His preschool Sunday School teachers permitted him to read aloud from the Bible to his preschool class of four and five year olds. It kept him engaged.
He was able to earn candy for reciting Bible verses. Our church family loves him and cares for him. And not only do they include him, they value him and the gifts he possesses.
Parenting a special needs child is a daily reminder that we are all beautifully and wonderfully made. We all have unique gifts to share.
Making autism and the church work took some extra effort. But it was well worth it as it led to deeper connections, both personally and spiritually.
Laurie McLean is a blogger, special needs parent, coffee fiend, dog lover, education advocate and recovering perfectionist interested in balance, humor and self-care. She helps women learn to give themselves grace while they simplify their lives and make the most of their motherhood journey, no matter what unexpected things may come their way. You can visit Laurie’s blog at www.lifewithasideoftheunexpected.com or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LifeMcLean), Facebook(www.facebook.com/lifewithasideoftheunexpected), Instagram (www.instagram.com/lifewithasideoftheunexpected) or Pinterest(www.pinterest.com/lifewithasideoftheunexpected).
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