Today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day during Autism Awareness Month. Considering the fact that this diagnosis has become increasingly pervasive, with 2 CDC revisions in statistics just in the past year alone, it is a perfect time for Christ’s Church to start learning to be more supportive of these families. Here are a few thoughts from where I stand, in service of parents raising children on the spectrum:
- Stop judging and start loving — If ever there were people in our culture who need to know the love and hope of Christ, it is those living on the autism spectrum or who have a family member diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. While we in the church are spending time being harsh, criticizing “Phrarisees”, these individuals are being driven further and further from the Lord. The simple act of loving on these families, which includes trying to educate ourselves on what they live with, goes a long way.
- Identify community members — I always need to keep myself from guffawing when a pastor or church leader says that they don’t have anyone with special needs inside their congregation. Considering this is one of the many “invisible disabilities” in need of ministry outreach, April is the perfect time to make efforts to identify people within the congregation who either have or know someone with an autism spectrum disorder. Once you identify, you can strategize how you will make the love of Jesus real to these individuals.
- Learn from the church experts — There are so many wise leaders in Christian community who can guide leaders on serving children and adults with autism, as well as their families. Key Ministry, Chosen Families, The Inclusive Church, Michael Woods of Not Alone, Kathleen Bolduc, Cindy & Joe Ferrini, Colleen Swindoll Thompson, Kelly Langston, Kelli Rae Anderson, Good Friend Inc, CLC Network… My goodness! I must be forgetting someone because this area of ministry has widened so greatly. In fact, there are so many within the Church who are skilled in the area of autism spectrum disorders that I would dare to say that the Body of Christ is without excuse in learning to love, accept and include these individuals.
- Get to know the person, not just the disorder — Each parent or child struggles with different challenges. It might be the financial strain of treating different aspects of the disorder. Acceptance and love might be a greater hunger. The church music being too loud might be an issue. Whatever it is, let us love one another just as Jesus commanded. That love is expressed in different ways to different people. Be mindful of that in reaching out to those living with an autism spectrum disorder.
I’m sure you have other insights to offer, if you have experience with including those with autism in your church body. I welcome those comments here. Until April is over, let’s work fervently on loving these remarkable individuals just like Jesus did, so that they’re acceptance lasts far beyond the month!