Did you know that April is National Autism Awareness Month? This annual observance was sponsored by the Autism Society almost 25 years ago to promote awareness, acceptance and inclusion for persons with autism. Since 2013, I’ve been sharing my family’s story about autism and trying to make a difference within my own areas of influence. This year is no different. I’m looking for places of worship to partner with me for a very special autism awareness faith based initiative! Are you up for the challenge?
HOW CAN I HELP?
My request is very simple. I’m asking places of worship to do at least one activity in April for autism awareness month. The possibilities for your activity are endless! Here are a few ideas:
- Wear blue on Sunday, April 2, 2017 for World Autism Awareness Day.
- Write about autism in the church bulletin or newsletter.
- Put up a display table with facts about autism on it.
- Do an activity in children’s church that teaches about autism and acceptance of those that are different.
- Teach staff members in children’s church and persons in leadership about autism.
- Reach out to persons with autism and their families. Ask them how their needs can be better met at church.
- Show a video about autism to the congregation.
- Start a special needs ministry for persons with autism.
- And much more!
This initiative is free and open to places of worship of any size. The initiative is primarily focused on Christianity, but persons from any religion are welcome to participate!
HOW DID THIS INITIATIVE GET STARTED?
I started this initiative in 2016. It was birthed out of my family’s struggle over the years to find a church that could meet the needs of my son with autism. Our lives were forever changed when a church willingly stepped up to the challenge! I wrote a blog series about it here. The series received a response much greater than I ever expected! As a result, I decided to go even further. I used my skills as a public health educator to develop this initiative, teaching churches about autism and helping them to see how they can make a tangible difference in the lives of persons with autism and their families. With the help of my partner churches, we were able to educate over 3,000 persons in 16 churches about autism! I would love to reach even more in 2017! This link gives details about last year’s activities.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain, causing problems with communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. It is estimated that 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism. Symptoms of autism can range from mild to severe. It can occur in persons from all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds. Autism is often diagnosed in childhood and continues throughout adulthood.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
If you haven’t already, it is very likely that you will encounter a family that has a child with autism at your place of worship. Families that have a child with autism often find it difficult to attend worship services because of sensory issues that can make it difficult to sit through a service. Things such as noise levels, crowds, and lighting can trigger meltdowns that are often misinterpreted as bad behavior. The goal of this initiative is for places of worship to become more aware about autism. My prayer is that the awareness gained will lead to a sincere desire to reach out to this underserved population by making appropriate accommodations in worship services. Persons with autism and their families deserve to be included and have a welcoming place to worship!
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
I hope that I can count on you to join this growing movement to make our places of worship autism friendly! If so, please leave a comment on this post or send an email to: Tonya@TonyaNash.com. I will send you an information packet with details to help you get started! I am available to help with information and resources for your activity ideas. Pictures of the activity and comments on the short evaluation form in the information packet will serve as proof that you have completed the initiative. Your pictures and comments may be used on my website and social media networks. Places of worship that complete the initiative will receive a certificate of participation.
I solicit your prayers and support for this initiative. Please feel free to share this post and invite others to participate. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of persons with autism and their families!