I was sitting in the playroom of McDonald’s (only the best for my kids 😉 ), and I saw the worship pastor from my church. We started the general type of talking… “Hi. How are you?”, “what have you been up to?” Then somehow, probably via my gift for rapid subject changes, our conversation turned onto my son. I was talking about how my husband and I haven’t been able to attend church together for over a year, and only twice a month for Sunday school the year before. It sounds like it might not be that big of a deal, but you’d be surprised at what an impact it makes…and not for the good.
The difficulty lies in finding a safe situation for our son. He can’t come to church anymore. Not because they don’t want him or love him, but because it isn’t a safe situation, both for the care takers and himself. He gets violent when angry or even frustrated, and I would never want to put the average lay person in that situation. And I wouldn’t want the risk that he could run away as well. We used to have people who watched him, but when he became more violent and flighty we had to stop taking him.
I absolutely love our church and how it tries to reach out to everyone. They have started an exploratory committee, so to speak, trying to see how the church can address the difficulties families with special needs have in attending church. How they can help is more complicated than it seems.
As I was talking with my friend/worship pastor (who absolutely rocks at his job, by the way), he summed up what seemed like a complicated mess in one simple statement. “What can the church do to help you?”
It seems like such a complicated situation, and in part it is, but the starting point is so simple. It starts with the church knowing what families like mine, who are held back from attending church because of our special circumstances, need to be able to attend. Somehow, I get caught up in the logistics of creating a system to address the needs of the community of people with special needs. A special needs Sunday school class? But how would we accommodate quite possibly such a large age span? Create multiple classrooms? That would require more teachers. And how would you train the teachers? The teachers would be better off being hired trained professionals. That is expensive. Then there is insurance. What is the liability for that? Also what would the measures to ensure that the children would stay secure in the building, in other words, security? That might be very expensive. I am not saying that the church values money over lives (nothing could be more the opposite), it’s just something that needs to be thought of when planning.
After my friend asked me what can the church do to help, he was throwing out ideas, one being having members come into our home to watch our son while we go to church. Please note…these were brainstorming ideas, not anything related to promises or even going beyond brainstorming. At first I said that was an idea that would work, surprised that anyone would suggest something that would be outside the building, but as I processed that thought later on I felt that a simpler solution would work. It’s the same thing that our church does now…a buddy one-on-one. It worked well for our son before he became more difficult to manage. It works well for those children who are more functional. The only obstacle involved in that is getting people to volunteer to be the ‘buddy’.
The most difficult problem, I believe, lies in how to address the needs of those like my son. Kids who are aggressive, flighty, full of meltdowns, etc. My best solution at the moment is a modification of the one-on-one system already in place. The differences being that the buddies would need to be hired trained respite care workers and a sensory classroom where the kids can be kept secure and safe while they get to play and have fun at the same time. It would cost money. How much, I don’t know. It would require training for the workers and consultations with experts on how to set this idea up.
It is only the best idea I have at the moment. It may not work, may be too expensive, or not meet enough families’ needs to be feasible. I only know that as the rates of autism are higher and higher, in a big city, if we are here, there are a thousand or more out there, affected and unreached.
Many are put off by the church as a whole because of a negative experience(s) they have had in the past, and I want to say on behalf of myself and all the other Christians out there, who hold to the actual teachings of Christ, we are so sorry and don’t give up on us just yet. I would love to know what ideas others have if they were asked the question, “What can the church do to help you?”
I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Also, I’d love it if you would consider sharing this with others who are affected by autism so I can have the chance to hear as many voices as I can. Please note…This is an opportunity to provide beneficial, constructive, and respectful feedback. In other words, this isn’t a place for church bashing, airing out complaints with the church, or offensive statements. Anything of that nature will be deleted.
As always, positive comments are welcome. Negative hurtful comments will be trashed before I can even finish reading them. I have many readers who are emotionally vulnerable, and I will not post comments that will further harm.
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