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How Churches Can Celebrate Autism Awareness Month

How Churches Can Celebrate Autism Awareness Month by Tonya Nash

Does your church celebrate Autism Awareness Month?

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never been a part of a church that did.

But should churches celebrate Autism Awareness Month?

I believe so.  Here’s why…

Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 68 children are diagnosed with Autism.  Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

Let’s say that you have a congregation of 200 people. Using the statistics above, chances are pretty high that you have at least 3 families at your church that are affected by autism. Did you know that attending church can be challenging when you have a child with autism? For more insight on that, please read my post about “Going to Church with a Special Needs Child.

I’ve talked to many families affected by autism and the common theme is that churches aren’t prepared and equipped to meet their needs. As a result, many stay at home or the parents take turns going to church. Marsena Williams Webb wrote a dissertation about churches as a source of support for families with children on the autism spectrum.  In her literature review, she cited studies that found that only 7% of respondents said the clergy was helpful when their child was diagnosed with autism.  Another study found that 30% of parents with an autistic child felt abandoned by the church.

We’ve got to do better! If a family visits your church and they have a child with autism, we have to be prepared to serve them, just like we serve everyone else. That’s what Jesus would do.

So how can you create Autism Awareness, not only during Autism Awareness Month, but year round at your church?

Here are some ideas:

  • Invite a Guest Speaker – This person could be anyone that has personal knowledge and experience with autism, such as a parent, a person with autism, a special education teacher, or a community professional from the health department.  Local affiliates of the Autism Society and Autism Speaks sometimes have speakers that will go out into the community and give presentations.
  • Have a Display Table – This table could include handouts that describe autism and the signs to look for, local autism resources, insurance information, different types of therapy available, reputable organizations that serve families affected by autism, and even cool free stuff.  You know everyone loves free stuff!
  • Support a Fundraiser –  There are many organizations that hold fundraisers for autism efforts.  Autism Speaks has Walk Now for Autism Speaks.  The Autism Society has a 1Power4Autism fundraising effort. Easter Seals, which also serves families with autism, has their Walk With Me fundraiser. You can even hold your own fundraiser (car wash, meals, etc.) and donate the money to an organization of your choice that serves persons with Autism.
  • Speak from the Pulpit – Pastors can preach about inclusion and acceptance for persons with autism in their Sunday morning sermons. Besides, all are welcome in the body of Christ, right? Everyone has an area of gifting that they can use for the glory of God. Persons with autism are no different. Which leads me to the next bullet…
  • Reach out – If there is an autism family at your church, seek out to get to know them if you don’t already. Ask how you can help them. Determine if there are any areas of accommodation that the church can make to support a better worship experience. Sometimes there are simple fixes that can be made, such as adjusting the lighting or turning down the volume to the sound system. One more thing, if a suggestion or accommodation is requested, please don’t blow it off. Do your best to meet the need. If the accommodation can’t be met, try to find an alternative.

It is my prayer that this post has been helpful to you. Be blessed as you follow the Great Commission and show all people the love of Christ!

Tonya

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