The CDC recently announced the latest rate of autism: 1:68. Back in 1991 when we first suspected Pamela of having autism, the literature said it was 2-5 in 10,000. I had to drive to another county to find a family like ours. The numbers are so high that even small churches should have at least one family with autism attending regularly. Unfortunately, some families stay home. Here are some reasons why:
Traditional, orderly services often work well for our children. They are predictable, quiet, etc.
However, parents feel embarrassed if their autistic kids — who look old enough to "know better" — wiggle or make auditory self-stims. People stare at us when this happen. Or, our kids makes loud remarks about that fat guy or that old woman or the boring sermon or the bald preacher. Or, getting everyone dressed in their Sunday best to church on time is impossible. Or, someone has a meltdown in the car on the way over because of a detour. Or, the preacher who gets exuberant during a sermon preaches too loud. Or, there is some anomalous noise in the sound system that only our children hear and it drives them bonkers. Or, our gluten-free, casein-free child runs straight to the donut table, which we will regret the next day. Or, some do-gooder decides that a teen isn't qualified to care for your six-year-old in a room nearby while you're at choir practice (true story). Or, children's church is too loud or doesn't exist or has nobody equipped to handle our kid or the "cry room" is too loud or....
Contemporary services often work well for our children. They allow our kids to wiggle, make noise, and wear their daily uniform (sweat pants).
However, parents feel embarrassed if their autistic kids — who look old
enough to "know better" — make auditory self-stims during that quiet, reflective hand waving song. People
stare at us when this happen. Or, our kids cannot handle the unpredictable nature of service that has no bulletin to cue them when the end is in sight. Or, our kids makes loud remarks about tattoos, pink hair, saggy pants, or that awesome Sponge Bob shirt.
Or, our kids sneaked a water bottle in the car, has wet pants, and refuses to calm down until we go home and change and by then it's too late. Or, someone has a meltdown in the car on the way over
because of insomnia the night before. Or, the sound system for those rocking worship songs are way too loud. Or, our active, clumsy child knocks over the donut table. Or, children's church is too loud or
doesn't exist or has nobody equipped to handle our kid or the "cry room"
is too loud or....
Or, for some reason, we parents lack skins thick enough to get over....
"__________ doesn't look autistic."
"There's nothing wrong with that brat who only needs a pop on the
"I read this book that your child might be demon-possessed."
"How can you homeschool? You're not qualified to handle autistic children."
"Why don't you homeschool?"
"One little cookie can't hurt."
"I don't believe in medications."
"Your kid needs meds."
"Did you see the program about [insert latest autism cure] the other day?"
Eye rolls and giggles from the cool teens who sit in the back row where you sit in order to get away with your fifteen-year-old who still carries Barney to church.
The inability for Sunday school coordinators to see that your teenaged child would be better off attending a developmentally appropriate class (second grade) instead of the teen class or special needs class.
Why can't we get over this stuff? If our kids don't sleep, we don't sleep. Or, worry about the future or just the next day's tall order keep us up. Or, we never get a break from our kids. Or, if we do get a break, we worry about our kids. Or, we are exhausted by trying to give normalcy to typical children and cannot wake up for church.
There are wonderful, compassionate, kind, loving families who have done everything under the sun for the child and, with puberty, comes the downward spiral and the overwhelmed teen leaves bruises. How can they take someone who might lash out and hurt someone at church?
Every family and situation is so unique, I can offer no answers. You probably know a family dealing with autism who never makes it to church but wishes they could. Why not ask them what you can do to help make church work better for their family? Then, see what you can do about making it happen. Even if it doesn't work, they will appreciate that you tried.
At the next Charlotte Mason carnival, I will share her thoughts on habits for families who just can't make it to church for the reasons I listed above and more.