Autism and The Church

If you are the parent of a child with autism, do you take your child to church?  I don’t know the statistics, but if I had to guess, I would say that most families with autism do not attend worship services regularly, even the ones that would like to.  I am a Christian, and my faith is very strong.  It’s what has gotten me through all of this, through autism, through breast cancer, through these very difficult times we are living in.  But my son is not regularly in church.  He has issues and needs that I haven’t felt like my church is prepared to handle at this time.  I, however, do attend services, and my husband takes care of our son while I am away.  I have to admit, Sunday mornings are my favorite time of the week.  I love going to worship God, I love fellowshipping with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I also, admittedly, enjoy stepping away from autism for a few hours each week.  I’ve been going to church solo for about two years, and I’ve loved every minute of it.  Of course, I would love my whole family to attend, but that just hasn’t seemed possible. Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, I knew that if I was going to get through that, I needed some prayers and support from fellow Christians.  I found an amazing church and an even more amazing Sunday School class that has been so faithful to pray for me and made me feel so loved, not only by them, but also by God.

But lately, I have been troubled.  I am troubled by a church that seems to be oblivious to what is happening to our children.  I’m not talking about my church specifically, but all churches.  Much like the rest of society, most people in church do not think much about autism, unless it has happened to one of their children. Don’t get me wrong.  I have several Christian sisters in Christ that I know have been faithfully praying for my son’s health, and praying that it becomes possible someday for him to attend Sunday School and worship services regularly.  I am grateful for their love and friendship and especially their prayers.  The obliviousness that I am talking about is that the church as a whole fails to see what is happening to our children – the decline in health of not only our children, but children who suffer from a myriad of disorders: allergies, asthma, learning disabilities, ADHD, asthma, sensory processing disorders, etc.  We are seeing God’s precious children presenting with a host of health issues that did not exist two to three decades ago, yet no one in the church seems to be asking, “Why?”

I have been feeling an enormous conviction in the past few weeks to do something.  I realized that as long as I was comfortable leaving my son at home, my church as a whole would also be comfortable with me leaving my son at home.  I knew I had to dig my heels in and work on this.  My health appears to be good, I have been feeling better and better, and breast cancer is looking farther away in my rearview mirror.  I felt a nudging that it was time to me to start taking action for my son.  My son deserves to be ministered to in the same way that my church has ministered to me. All children do.

 

It isn’t easy!  I took my son to an evening service recently, and I sat with him in the balcony where very few people were sitting, thinking we wouldn’t be a distraction to anyone there.  Wrong!  In the middle of the sermon, apparently the sound of the pastor’s voice bounced out of those speakers onto a wall and hit my son’s ear in way that must have been brutally painful.  He let out a powerful scream like I had never heard him scream before.  The pastor completely lost his train of thought and I struggled to usher my screaming, hysterical son out of the sanctuary and down to the car.

When I got in my car, I lost it.  I fell apart into hysterical tears of embarrassment, humiliation, and hurt.  I felt angry that no one had known how to react and that no one had followed us out to help us or even ask if we were okay. The beautiful part, though, was the Lord’s reassurance that I felt as I cried in my car.  That still, small voice that I heard in my head that when you hear it, you know where it’s from.  It said, “This is going to help you.”

It has helped.  Within a few days, I found out that my church was planning to hold training sessions for the teachers of Children’s classes on ministering to children with autism.  They also announced that week that every fourth Sunday night of the month were now to be “Family Night”, where parents were urged to not put their babies in the nursery but to bring them into the adult services, and that everyone should bring their children and let them be as noisy as they want to be.  The music and the services on these nights will be tailored to children.

What I am realizing is this:  As long as we parents keep our children at home, our church and our community are allowed to remain blissfully unaware of the autism epidemic.  Families who have not been affected by autism have no real idea of how autism affects families and children, and if we don’t expose them to our children we will not make any progress with them.  It’s much easier to ignore problems like allergies and asthma and even ADHD than it is autism.  We need to go beyond our schools and get our children out in the community.  They need to be seen so their voices (or lack of them) can be heard.  If we want people to realize that something is happening to our children, we need them to SEE that something is happening to our children.

This past Sunday, my son wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t bring him to church, but I used the opportunity to track down the Children’s Ministry director.  I asked him, point blank, about their future plans for children with autism.  He told me that they are in the research stages, but that they are hoping to begin an autism outreach to families in our city who may not be in church right now because of their child’s autism.  He told me that they were hoping to one day provide volunteers to “shadow” children with autism who need the one-on-one assistance in Sunday School.  He told me that the church wanted to do anything they could to assist me in getting my son in church, and he asked me to keep the lines of communication open with them as to how they could best see to his needs.  I also talked to the Children’s Church teacher, who told me, “We are here for you and we want to help you with whatever you guys need”.

I don’t know if any of these plans were in motion before my son’s screaming episode or not, but one thing I do know:  things have started changing since that happened.  And that episode certainly did result in a strengthening of my resolve.

My challenge to you is this:  If you have been out of church because of your child’s autism, I challenge you to attend worship services this Easter Sunday.  Get your child into a church where they can be seen and heard.  Some larger churches have special needs ministries already; usually there is a good description on their webpage if they do.  You may have to call a few churches to ask.  If the church you are attending or you want attend does not, take your child anyway.  Talk to the people in charge and tell them your situation, and ask how they can help.  Ask them to be praying for your child and start praying that any barriers to your child’s attendance be removed.  Don’t worry if your child is disruptive:  it may be just the catalyst that is needed for change.

I am so proud of my church!

Love, B.K.

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110 Responses to Autism and The Church

  1. Oh thank you so much for this post. I cannot describe to you the relief I felt reading it. Knowing that this struggle is definitely not only mine.

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  6. Beverly Griffith says:

    Thank you so much for your blog. I hope to one day have a special needs class at our church. I am the Children’s Church Director at our church. We currently have 3 children attending our Children’s Church and Sunday School. One has ADHD, another has “oppositional defiance disorder” (I had never heard of it, but researched it. Very difficult to work with.) The other boy does not have autism, but his condition is quite similar and he attends a school with autistic children.
    I would like to share a blessing. Recently, in class, I asked the boys and girls who Jesus was. This boy raised his hand and when I called on him he said quite clearly, “Lord”. This boy has a vocabulary of about 200 words. I’m so glad one of them is “Lord”!
    A couple weeks after this, during music time in Children’s Church, he wanted to help with the singing. He took a microphone and began to sing “Love the Lord, Your God With All Your Heart”. He couldn’t sing every word, but he was singing!
    I really like the idea of having someone “Shadow” our boys. They would benefit so much from the one-on-one attention.

    The great burden on my heart is that people do not want to serve. I have asked several people to help in our programs, but their response is that they “need to be fed” in the worship service. There is such a shortage of dedicated, committed workers in our churches. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he will send workers to our “lost sheep”.
    God Bless you,

    • I wanted to invite you to download any materials you find on our website. If you look under “Downloads” or “:Training Materials”, there is a wealth of materials that any church can use to incorporate people on the Spectrum into the regular life of the church. My passion is the full inclusion of people on the Spectrum into the life of the Church!
      The Rev. Rebecca Black

  7. I would encourage you to take a look at StrawberryMinistries.org. Darryl & Tracy Strawberry are doing a lot for families affected by autism in the St. Louis area. http://www.razoo.com/story/Fight-Against-Autism?fb_ref=6nqv6st32&referral_code=share

  8. Dr. Lisa Rollins says:

    Greetings all. I have an 18 year old son who has Autism. A few years back my old church dismissed him out of the after care program they had for the church kids and the community. My son is not a screamer or violent but he will wonder off into another room if he is bored or ignored. They didn’t want to deal with him because he didn’t play like other kids and they didn’t want to “entertain” him, I was told. I went to the pastor to offer the staff (also members of the church) free training and even his nurse and therapists was willing to come in to do training. But they REFUSE. They consistently made excuses until finally they asked us to leave. I was hurt. If I couldn’t depend on my church family who could I depend on….we felt isolated and unwanted. Prior, to this, The church board members also Vito my son being baptize because he couldn’t recite scriptures. However, the pastor did baptize him but not on a Sunday, he performed it on a Thursday evening. Finally, I had enough. I decided to speak to the pastor one more time to inform him that he failed me and my son. He agreed but felt that he couldn’t do anything about it because he would be going against the board members. I requested to speak to them because I wanted to tell them how ungodly they were but of course the meeting never took place. Currently, I have found a new church home where the pastor and congregation accept my son. Even when my son makes noise and I try to quite him down the pastor will announce from the pool pit to leave him be and to let him big serve God the way he wants. It feels good to finally be accepted in church. My son was also denied a big brother/sister from the national organization also do to his autism. They wouldn’t even meet with him. They just denied his application. Now I visit churches and organizations in NJ speaking about our story and how churches can no longer deny our families access…..I will be speaking this weekend at a conference to a huge group of pastors and bishops.,…hopefully this will be the start of something positive. It is so great to have this forum…..It’s comforting to know that I’m not crazy and other families of disabled love ones is also fighting for equality for our children. God Bless.

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  10. My grandson has autism and i have had him in church since he was about 2.He is now 13, he loves church and it has helped him so much. God Blesses the little children.

  11. Don says:

    I am working with a church which will launch a full online campus at the end of June. We have a young man with Asperger’s who envisions a role with the campus. We think this could be one way to reach out to families which have felt disconnected from church or have a difficult time attending due to a family member with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or other condition. If you participated in a church online, what would you want to see it offer for you?

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  13. My name is Nina Tidwell and I am a pastor along with my husband. We founded and pastor Ponce Church here in Ponce Inlet, FL along with our sons Rich and Robert and our new daughter-in-law Brandi. We are very active in a group called Surfers for Autism here in Florida. It is an amazing group of families and people that have a heart to reach children that have autism. SFA provides with volunteers a day of surfing and fun! There have been accounts of non-verbal children with autism that have uttered their first words ever at these surf events! The children LOVE to surf!!
    Since we have been volunteers at the SFA events, I have had the privilege of meeting parents and talking with them about their child’s needs. We are getting ready to host our first annual Spaghetti Luncheon (GF) this October. Ponce Church will be providing all of the food for this event and it’s our vision and heart to reach out to these families. Our vision is to make connections with these families and encourage them that they and their children are WELCOME at Ponce Church.
    I have worked with and ministered to children with special needs nearly 10 years ago while we were attending a church (before we founded Ponce Church) in Michigan of which there were two families that had children with special needs. Long story short, they had been praying for a teacher to be able to minister to their children. Well, during a worship team Christmas party, they began praying specifically for a teacher and asked if I would join in prayer with them. As we were praying, the Lord said to me, “This is my heart!” His words were so powerful that it felt as if my heart was going to pound out of my chest when I heard him speak to me (not audible). I did not say anything after the prayer. As I drove home (a 45 minute ride) the Lord said, “I want you to teach them” I said, “Oh no Lord, I do not have the knowledge of how to do it, you’ll have to get someone else that is trained” Well, he did not let it go, so I finally said, “Not my will, but your will be done” When I arrived home I immediately wrote the head pastor and told him of my experience. He got back with me immediately and from then on he allowed me to run with the vision to get the class going. I did a lot of research and visited two other churches in the area that had classes for children with special needs. I read literature and did the best I could to educate myself on how to reach the children and minister to them successfully. The first Sunday of the class, I kid you not, the presence of the Lord was so strong in the classroom. I had arrived early to set up and I just felt him there, and I could not move, I began to tear up because I knew he was there. This lasted a few minutes and then he encouraged me to proceed with prepping the classroom. All I can say is that our first class with just a few students was amazing!! It then began to grow and parents have told me how they began seeing a difference in their children. To God be the glory!
    Now that we’ve been in Florida (since 2003) and have been working with SFA, we have a heart to reach children autism and their families, and our Spaghetti Luncheon is our first step to connecting with these families and their children.
    Thank you for writing/publishing your article! It is a reminder of what the Lord put on my heart many years ago and now it is time to take action and provide a safe and fun place for the children with trained teachers and with the proper tools in ministering to them.
    Any advice/tips that you’d like to share you can find me on Facebook “Pastor Nina Tidwell” and “Ponce Church Surfside-Ponce Inlet, FL” Also at ninatidwell.com
    Blessings,
    Pastor Nina Tidwell
    Ponce Church

    • B.K. says:

      Thank you so much Pastor Nina! I am so thankful that the Lord has given so many people a heart for special needs kids. Your comment means a lot to me! I would first advice you to look at http://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/
      Amy Fenton Lee has some amazing tools there! I will be looking you up on FB! God bless! — B.K.

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  15. May I link your article to my websites http://www.ASpecialGrace.com and http://www.TheWebRev.com ?

    I am an Episcopal priest and the mother of an Aspie. Starting from my knowledge of what my child needed in christian formation, and joining forces with http://www.rhythms-of-grace.org the Episcopal Diocese of MA is developing a ministry with people on the Spectrum — children, teens, adults, siblings, spouses, partners, parents and caregivers.

    I hope we can continue the conversation in all our churches!

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  18. Swan says:

    Dearest BK, Your post has so much love and compassion for every one and is so positive! I began reading blogs such as yours in order to better understand my nephew. As a nurse, I have an understanding from the medical side, but didn’t find that helpful at all. I know that there is a lot of frustration with people who don’t know about autism. I find it more than horrible that churches (people) are so mean. Your post is the only positive one I have found! I have been a nurse for almost 29 years, but have just recently taken the classes to begin a Parish Nurse Ministry. Thanks to my nephew and your blog, I now know what I need to do and where to get the education! Many Blessings to You and Yours

  19. cia parker says:

    My autistic daughter was kicked out of a small Methodist Sunday school when she was five. She had been joyfully repeating over and over that God is love, when it turned out that God’s love wasn’t for her, at least not through them. They said she didn’t seem to be benefitting or understanding what was said, and directed us to the Thompson Center for autism here, a center which exists spinning out only behavior therapy for autistic children, resolutely turning its back on biomedical treatment.

    • B.K. says:

      So sorry, Cia. Those kings of stories are very upsetting, but just know that God did not kick her out. One day they will have to answer directly to Him for that, I truly believe. I hope you have found someplace more welcoming for her.

  20. Erin Sullivan-Theisen says:

    Our Church has a Special Needs Ministry to teach Religious Education to special children, also known in the Catholic Church as”CCD” The program reaches families in many towns in our area. You can view a video about this program in the Cardinal’s Appeal Video attached which was shown at Mass in every Church in the NY Area this spring, a big reach asking for help to start similar programs throughout the area. We in our parish are also having special needs mass once per month or so for families who are still not comfortable coming to mass otherwise. The congregation which was once resistant to these “noisy kids” has been brought to understand Autism is a complex problem and to that families, all types of families are the future of our church. They have become openly compassionate, supportive and very welcoming. Given the chance we hope that others will model the example shown here. http://www.stewardshipappeal.org/archbishops-message/

  21. Hannah Elyse says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am disappointed in the church’s (as a whole) failure to meet the needs and create space for individuals with various cognitive abilities and experiences. I am so thankful to have found this blog, this is an awesome thing you all have going on here!

    I am a seminary student interested in creating “worship” services and educational resources specifically designed for individuals with cognitive learning differences, that offer a safe environment as well as elements conducive to their ways of being, thinking and sensing.

    I was wondering if it would be possible to ask you some questions.

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  23. B.K. says:

    Thanks Mary. I truly believe there is a real movement of churches trying to accommodate the increase in special needs children, and the ones that are no prepared at the moment are working toward that goal. At least, that is what I am hoping for. God bless!

  24. Mary Hampton says:

    My heart goes out to you and other parents in your situation. One of my dearest friends stopped going to church when her (as yet undiagnosed) son was 3 because the Sunday school teacher couldn’t handle him driving cars through the playdough rather than squishing it into molds and such. Thankfully, he’s older and in mainstream school and she posted pictures of the Easter service they attended (in a barn, complete with owls).

    I wish she lived closer; the church we attend now has Sunday morning classes specifically for people with varying disabilities and I know there’s more training and some re-vamping going on. I’m sure there is always more that can/needs to be done, but I do appreciate the commitment to try.

    Mary Hampton

  25. MrsB says:

    This hits close to home. My sister finally tried going to church with her ten year old son who has autism. The church was supposed to have services for kids with special needs. Instead, the pastor yelled at my nephew from the pulpit to “get his eyes front and center”. My sister hasn’t been back. It breaks my heart. They live over a thousand miles away so I can’t be there to help her get to church.

    My son has many sensory issues. We attend a small Lutheran church that has a formal liturgy. It works really well because there aren’t guitars and drums blaring and the service is structured so he knows what to expect. We used to attend a church with a more modern service and we had to sit outside in a courtyard because the noise was just too much.

  26. J. Schriver says:

    Just interested to know if anybody follows this that have adult children with ASD? We have a 24 year old son that has Aspergers. With changes in the church today with the forms of contemporary music, with a worship band, it is sometimes just too painful for him. He will ask to go to a quieter church if he has to leave our service on any given Sunday.We understand why the change is there today for the younger generation…..but it is so lonely being that one sheep. Hard being the parent of that one sheep. Yes things need to be changed in the churches for the families of little ones.Maybe by the time they reach adults lots will have been learned to include and accommodate these precious individuals.

    • B.K. says:

      Churches can be way too loud for our ASD kids…even the grown ones. Some churches have “quiet rooms”…I love that idea.

    • Katie says:

      J.,

      I am 2 years late to this post, but my sister w/ autism is an adult. This post resonates with me and I can’t wait to read the other ones.

      My parents are VERY against CCM/ modern music and so they will ONLY go to conservative churches. However, that really limits their options.

      I’d be interested in
      chatting with you sometime; my email address is katiecrystal23@yahoo.com

      I have no idea where you are located, but one upstate, SC church, Discover Church, has a ministry for kids with special needs/ autism.

  27. enablefaith says:

    Thanks for sharing with the world your heart and calling. I have been a pastor of a small inner city Pentecostal church, then 5 years ago, the HOLY SPIRIT began me on a journey of self dscouvery. The end result has been a growing awareness of how disabilities are over looked. As I mentioned, I am a member of a Pentecostal church. I have recently launched a Pentecostal reponse to this very situation you mention. Our goal is to disciple people with autism into all that Jesus has for them.. I do believe GOD has a deep love for you and your son. The ministry I started is not being lead by a team of men with developmental disabilities like Down Synrome, Autism, and Learning disabibilities. I wanted to share with you how many different churches are waking uip to the needs of persons with disabilities, those who support them, and their families. Your church sounds like its moving in a biblical and honest direction of inclusion. I would like to make a suggestion. One that I can not prove but I felt was true as I read your story. Your sons scream may very well have been an out burst of intercession. Scripture talks about groanings and I have seen believers who screamed out of frustration who did not have autism. Perhaps, your son was praying for you and God answered his desire to belong. I have workeed with dozens of autistic youtn seniors, and children who longed for a touch from GOD but their longing for Jesus went unnoticed because far too often churches opt for a medical definnition of their situation rather than a social definition of what a disabilities is. I find it facinating that God spoke to you as he did on the very Sunday your son screamed and then almost immidiately GOd began to help you.

    • B.K. says:

      Awesome that you started a ministry!!! I hope more charges follow suit. My son grabbed and hit his ear when he screamed, which is his typical indication that something hurt it. :)
      Though I like your theory! :)

  28. Ann Memmott says:

    In the UK, we’ve written the ‘Welcoming those with Autism and Asperger Syndrome’ guidelines for churches, which have been downloaded some 4000 times (easy to google that title and my name, Ann Memmott). We’re seeing an increase in interest from churches all over the world, and also notice that churches that are autism-aware are also those that grow their membership numbers from all sorts of people. A warm welcome means a good place for everyone.

    • enablefaith says:

      Can you send me a copy of this guideline? It’s hard to find matterial designed to be helpful that actually is. Trust me, I am so tired of looking. I started to develop my own matterials based on the word of GOD first, then a secular theory called Social Role Valorization. I went out and did alot of research on what churches were doing, I found very little and what resources existed from the USA seemed to be designed for children even though they said they were for adults. I Canada we are completely new at alot of this but there is a growing movement which I am apart of, and if you have a tool that is helpful, I would like to see it. Please email me at jova7@live.ca and let me know how to quickly access it.

    • B.K. says:

      I’d love to see the guidelines! :) Thanks!

  29. Tears. Such a beautiful story. I’m so moved reading this.

  30. Guilded Thinker says:

    I am not a church goer. Haven’t been in a long time. That started long before I had kids and is a story for another time. I wanted to comment, though, because this post had a different meaning for me. I have been a hermit for the last 5 1/2 years. it started when we moved to a new state/town. Shortly after moving here, our son was diagnosed. Then it was therapies. All. The. Time. I didn’t have time for anything that wasn’t autism related. Therapies, doctor appointments, research. I never made a single friend here. My only outings aside from all the medical stuff was grocery shopping, the occasional hair cut. We live so far out that even a lot of my shopping was done online.
    After reading this post, I started thinking. So many times I have cursed autism for stealing not only my son’s life, but mine, too. I’m a shadow of my former self. But I realized that the main reason I don’t get out, aside from the general logistics of trying to get out alone with an actiuve 3 yr old and a 50 pound 6 year old who is physically disabled as well as having autism was because I didn’t want my oldest son’s behaviors to *disturb* people. He’s a screamer. it’s not a “I’m in pain” scream, but more of a “I can’t communicate” scream. It’s a blood-curdling, raise the dead 3 feet out of the grave scream. And it can come out of nowhere, completely blind-side you.
    Something you said, the part about how people will continue to ignore this epidemic as long as we hide in the shadows, on the fringe of society, hit me hard. With that in mind, I decided I was going to find a way to start getting out.
    So, last week, I took the kids to the local library. this is something I have wanted to do because I am an avid reader and my boys love reading, but I just didn’t have the nerve to take them to such a quiet place. Still, an aquaintance told me they have a reading hour every Tuesday for kids. Of course, my son had a meltdown in the middle of it, but good things can come from rough situations. I removed him from the room to a hallway to try to calm him, my younger son at my heels. Another mother noticed my 3 yr old looking longingly back at the room and offered to have him sit with her and her kids. Surprisingly, He agreed. Then, after the reading hour was over, the “teacher” and another mother approached me to tell me that they knew the sound of those screams and that they hoped that we would continue to come because he would eventually become comfortable with the new environment. No judgment, only help and acceptance. I made two new friends that day.
    That was last week. It has been a catalyst for me. I am taking my life back and taking my son’s life back. People need to see how prevalent autism is. Every day. I thought about what I would say when I get that snarky comment that I know will happen at some point. My answer will be, “This is autism. it doesn’t have ‘a look’. Autism now affects 1 in 88 American children, 1 in 54 boys. If this is your first encounter with autism, get used to it, I can promise you it won’t be your last”.

    • Goddess says:

      bawling xoxoxoxox

    • B.K. says:

      Crying here too. I am so proud of you for taking that step. That’s amazing. I am glad that you were able to get that from my post. That was what I wanted…for it to be applicable not only in the church but out in the world. I know how hard it is. I’ve struggled with this for a long time. My husband still is stuck in this…he wants to cut every outing short so that we can “quit while we are ahead”…he has a long way to go. But he will get there, I do think. One step at a time. I am thrilled for you. xoxo

      • Guilded Thinker says:

        Thanks to all of you – B.K., Goddess, and for the love of Lance. B.K., I will say that I’m not a lost cause as far as church goes. We have finally found a church that we think we like. And they are completely accepting of special needs kids. they even have a large crying room with a sound system to hear the sermon and it looks out onto the sanctuary – for those meltdowns. But so far, both boys are liking thier children’s classes. So far, so good, at least. :)

  31. Kat W says:

    BK, I stumbled upon your blog and was struck by you seemingly living in my mind. I too was diagnosed with breast cancer (age 31) and have a son that has ASD. We have even established a facebook group of our small group of women with both issues. I am a believer and struggle with this issue of involving our son in our church and have spent many a Sunday home with him. Would love to connect with you. Blessings, sister. –Kat

    • B.K. says:

      Hi Kat! Can you find my BK Tmr profile on FB? If not, leave a PM on the TMR FB page and I will try to connect with you there. :) I am looking forward to chatting with you!

  32. AmyFentonLee says:

    What a great post! And this is the reason I started http://www.TheInclusiveChurch.com, to help children’s pastors and family ministry leaders to better include kids with learning differences and special needs.

    As a part of The Orange Conference, I am hosting the special needs track for ministry leaders called to champion their church’s inclusion efforts. We are thrilled to see both staff members and volunteers come from all over the country to learn the practical “how to’s” to help their church welcome families impacted by special needs Check out the workshops here: http://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/2012-orange-conference-special-needs-track/

    By the way, Horsegaljk mentions Saddleback’s Super Kids special needs ministry. It is one of the best in the country. Their leader Amy K. is a wealth of knowledge and leads some of the best training sessions I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks for writing this post!
    Amy Fenton Lee
    Special Needs Columnist to Children’s Ministry Magazine
    Special Needs Consultant to Orange, http://www.whatisorange.org
    http://www.TheInclusiveChurch.com

  33. Heather says:

    What a gift to know churches are really getting involved. This is great news and I am brought to tears reading this. We were told we were not welcome by two churches here and it devasted me! I am so happy that churches are realizing this is a serious matter and Jesus forsake no one.

    • B.K. says:

      That’s so sad Heather, but also, look at that as a gift. Autism can make it easy to see if they are really and truly are a Christ-like church. It’s an easy way to determine if it’s the right church for you. I hope you have found a new church, and if not, I hope you will open yourself back up to looking for one. Don’t let a couple of bad ones keep you from worshipping. Much love.

  34. Andrea Paille says:

    Thank you everyone for your posts. I have been through tough times at church as well. My son when he was first diagnoses with ASD was in the church play and I was asked to withdraw him from the play. I did this just to keep the “peace” but we left that church. It was very difficult for my older child to understand how is it that the church could lack the understanding that God made all of us, church is the one place where we should all be able to go and receive support. We have now been in a different church for over a year and my son as well as my daughter love it. My son has one on one support and participates in all the same activities as the other children in the group. If your church does not support your entire family as difficult as it is search out another church that will be supportive of the entire family. We are all God’s Children, fearfully and wonderfully made!! Happy Easter, Blessings!

    • B.K. says:

      Amen, Andrea! You are so right. Of anyplace in the world, our children should be MOST welcomed in church. God bless! :)

  35. so RIGHT ON. We have struggled, too. My husband and I were enthusiastic new converts to the Catholic Church…and I was about to make my profession as a Secular Franciscan (just means I’m SUPER Catholic…lol)…when our son began showing “the signs” at 2 yrs old. It’s gotten more difficult as he’s gotten older, bigger, and stronger…and louder. He’s now 5yrs old. I recently found a Facebook page of a couple of Catholic ladies who are doing setting up exactly this. The page is called All God’s Children Autism Ministry at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. I’ve hooked up with the ladies and picked their brains about this type of ministry and how they set it up. But is wasn’t until today…when I read your post…that I wasn’t SPURRED to DO something. I just called our Church secretary and left a message.
    We have a VERY large parish. I see NO kids with Autism running around…NONE. Don’t tell me I’m the ONLY CATHOLIC in our parish who got “lucky” enough to have her kid diagnosed with Autism!! I just know there’s an ARMY of families who are sitting at home during each Sunday Mass, remembering the days when they were able to CELEBRATE their faith. Feeling deserted by people who really just don’t know HOW to help.
    You’ve inspired me to get together with my pastor to figure this out…b/c I really do think our families are the most marginalized in our society when it comes to practicing our faith and worshipping. “What you do to the least of these, you did to me.”…
    Thank you so much for sending such a PERFECT message for this time of year. You’re blessing a GREAT MANY people by it…which is obvious from the outpouring of gratitude on this page!!! Happy Easter!!!

    • B.K. says:

      Thank you Jennifer! Best wishes on getting this together. It is SO NEEDED…and I know so many will be grateful. xoxo

  36. Jaelyn Renee says:

    My son has recovered so much thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ! That we do take him with us to church. My whole family…. 4 kids and my husband and I sit in the spacious family area at Harvest!
    You can take strollers in there and its filled with families. Its so nice to be able to attend church with your kids… especially ones with special needs!
    God bless!

  37. tiffaniwilson says:

    I just want you to know this, really know this: After 4 1/2 years (since my son’s diagnosis) of a downward spiral, into a depression I never saw myself sinking into… THIS MESSAGE, THESE MESSAGES I keep reading from the Thinking Moms, are HEALING me. Restoring my STRENGTH to a place where I can effectively recover my precious son. This diagnosis, this stupid autism, has been the absolute WORST attack on my faith that I have ever experienced since I came to know the Lord. Surprisingly enough, I am a preacher’s wife, immersed in ministry to others for the last 12 years. I have kept the “happy face” up long enough… I have put my hurts & heartbreaks & frustrations up on the shelf long enough. Although I truly love all of my brothers & sisters in Christ, no one, NO ONE has brought the understanding, the insight, & the perspective that the Thinking Moms have to me. You have truly restored, re-ignited my hope. I know that my son is going to recover, and after giving my life away to others for years & years, I am going to give everything I have towards his recovery. I don’t care if it is perceived as selfish, or whatever. He deserves a life. All the opportunities that the rest of us have had. He deserves to have choices. All the things neuro-typical children have. He deserves it all. I am DONE with watching him stare out the window at kids his age throwing a football around in their yard, wanting to join them so badly… (tried that, at least 3 times… they all made fun of him not being able to throw or catch a ball, and not talking, just making noises. How could 6 & 7-year-olds be so heartless?) Anyway. My point in posting this comment is to edify & exhort & encourage every Thinking Mom… and every mom of an autistic child… other mother DO KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you got that same feeling I did when receiving the autistic diagnosis, and the miserable prognosis… that feeling that, “NO! I’m not going to accept this! There’s got to be another way!” Good! Your instincts are right-on! There ARE solutions out there. There are thousands of kids who have 100% recovered from autism. You are not alone. Join the revolution, today!

    • goddess says:

      recovering your child can never be seen as selfish….he deserves a life is right! We are glad we can help you….please friend me at Goddes Tmr when you have a chance. xo

    • B.K. says:

      Tiffani, I can’t thank you enough for this beautiful post. I pray your son’s future is healthy and happy. Giving him what he needs from you is selfless, not selfish. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for sharing your story.

  38. Jodi Rouse says:

    Amen to you Mom!!

  39. Willsmomstacie says:

    I strongly urge you to look up McLean Bible Church in Virginia…they have one of the most amazing special needs outreach programs on the planet. We attend a church in the Philadelphia suburbs, who have tried earnestly to minister to my family and the other family in our church with autism. I am so grateful. It has taken years for us to be able to sit through the worship service, and we still have to take turns shadowing our son in childrens church. But at least the desire and awareness is growing. God is good!

  40. Nneka Obiagwu says:

    Thank you sooooooo much for such an honest account. A group of us-parents were recently discussing this and trying to set out modalities for starting an inclusion campaign in our churches. I am very lucky my son is fully embraced in church but that an exception to the rule in our environment and they even need more help from us the parents, the caregivers and other concerned people with concrete ideas on how to do that. If we don’t speak up, our voices will not be heard. And it’s sooooooooo essential cos for me, it is my faith in God that enables me stare autism in the face and still have joy while we await the manifestation of our healing. In Him we trust. Thank you aain

    • B.K. says:

      Me too, Nneka. I couldn’t get through this without Him. Thanks for your comment, and good luck in your endeavor!

  41. I’m the pastor of a congregation in suburban St. Louis that decided to do something. Our website is http://www.umcgt.org. We have a professionally staffed sensory room, a team of individuals who work to make accommodations in both Sunday School and worship services AND an evening service that is even more intentionally sensory and autism-friendly (no microphones, quiet, meditative, only 30 minutes long). Quite frankly, the Church doesn’t have a choice and we don’t have time to explore. One in 110 children means that soon there will be 1 in 110 adults. It seemed to me that Jesus talked about 1 sheep amidst 99. Surely we’re called to reach out to nearly 10% of the children around us. My only frustration (and it is relatively minor) in the entire process has been the slow commitment of families to attend. I can’t imagine what its like getting a child with autism ready for church. At the same time, if ministries like ours are going to survive, we need people to visit and then commit to them. That’s going to take a handful of brave pioneers like the author of this article. As pastor, I’m more than ready to receive families. My congregation is ready. We aren’t perfect. We’re still learning, but I don’t think we have time to explore this before acting. The time to act is now. We just need families to get on board with us. I’ll honestly do anything to ensure they can attend the church I serve. I would stake my entire ministry on that. Again, if you’re around St. Louis, check us out: http://www.umcgt.org

    • Professor says:

      Unfortunately, the latest numbers for children who are 12 years old now are 1 in 88. And it’s only getting worse. Thanks for being realistic in your efforts to help these people.

  42. Nicole Delia says:

    Beautifully and wonderfully said! Thank you for being part of the solution! My faith in Christ is the only way I can do autism. And I am so encouraged to hear other mothers fighting for their children and trusting God to go hand in hand.

  43. Horsegaljk says:

    I’m not big into New Year’s Resolutions, but this year…. going to church consistently was it. I also have a deep personal faith, but knew I needed to get plugged back into a home church. My 3 1/2 yo son was diagnosed with autism a year ago. We had been waiting until he was more verbal so he could communicate with his Sunday School teacher and I would feel more comfortable leaving him, as I had with my older son. However with speech delay… that wasn’t happening. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I called the church we had previously attended a few times before our youngest was born to see if they had ‘helpers’ that could shadow him and make sure he didn’t elope, etc. To my joy and amazement, they had an entire special needs program with mostly 1:1 ratio. The program director is awesome, caregivers go through special training classes to work with special needs kids. No food is served (I was worried about my son’s allergies), the lessons and crafts are tailored to the kids level, and they even have activity balls and other items to help them sit through the ‘teaching times’ after some time on the playground of course. I have also heard of them ‘mainstreaming’ kids when they are ready into the typical Sunday School classes with a volunteer to help them. So Great!! Anyway, it is a very large church, which helps because they have the space and resources. I am certain they would be happy to consult with any church trying to implement a similar program: http://saddleback.com/lakeforest/children/specialneeds/
    Thanks for writing about this topic and being such an awesome warrior mom example to the rest of us. You truly inspire me to keep going….

    • B.K. says:

      Thank you so much Horsegal! (I love that name!) That sounds like a wonderful program. What a blessing. I will look up your church! :)

      • Horsegaljk says:

        Hello again and Happy Easter (a little belated :) ) I talked to the Director of the Super Kids Program (that’s the name of the special needs ministry) yesterday. She said she is happy to talk to anyone wanting to know more about how their program is set up and also told me there is an east coast church that has an awesome special needs ministry called McLean Bible Church. I believe she mentioned they hold conferences for other churches to attend and learn each year: http://mbctysons.org/access
        In addition, she forwarded Saddleback’s facebook link, if that is helpful:
        http://www.facebook.com/pages/Saddleback-Church-Disabilities-Ministry/181714085204768
        Blessings!! :)

  44. Amanda says:

    My husband and I have been in agony all week over whether or not we could attempt to go anywhere on Easter Sunday. I was hoping that watching a Veggie Tales episode on our way to the park would count. We recently found out that our neurotypical child is not as typical as we thought. We have 2 high-functioning special needs preschoolers now. We don’t want to tell anyone and especially anyone connected to the church we attend (or attend-ish, really) b/c we don’t want what happened to our son to happen her. The party line is that special needs classes are for low-functioning (i.e., easier to manage) children but the other classes are not inclusive of moderate-to-high functioning ASD either. We’re lost in the middle. Your thoughtful and heartfelt post has given me renewed courage to try again. We may get kicked out (again) but we’ll keep trying.

    • B.K. says:

      I am so glad! The good thing is that if we are unhappy one place, we can keep trying new places until we find a good fit. I LOVE all the good comments we got here today…quite a few people who attend churches who “get it right”! It is so encouraging to me. Good luck this weekend. You can do it! :)

  45. Misty FOrd says:

    I am sitting here in tears. This is me. I have avoided taking Sean to church for a long time because of the stares we encounter. Recently we moved closer to my job and the teacher assigned to me works with the developmentally disabled and has been most helpful. It’s hard for many I think, because my son has no OBVIOUS outward signs of a disability. I cannot name number of times I’ve been told he merely needs discipline.

    But Sean talks regularly to God despite lack of “training.”. He tells me God uses him to give ME eyes that I might see. Funniest story– we were attending a Wednesday night service and the teacher was going around the room having the kids repeat “Thank you God for our church”. They all do without fail until Sean. We prompted him”Thank you…” and deadpan and not missing a beat, he stands raises one hand in the air, and says “Take me to your leader”. Love that boy!!!

  46. Jo Ashline says:

    You are just beyond RADICAL and I so love your hands on approach. We are Catholics and have been taking our sons, one of whom has autism, to church since they were babies. Everyone knows that Andrew flaps, shrieks, and hums his way through mass, and those that stop to get to know him also know that he is closer to God and what it means to live in his light than most of us will ever have the opportunity to experience.
    Our children and adult children are truly the LORD’s children, and if they aren’t welcome in his house of worship, then our society as a whole is DOOMED.
    Bravo for stepping outside of your comfort zone. You are a ROCK STAR!!!

    • B.K. says:

      Thank you Jo! “Our children and adult children are truly the LORD’s children, and if they aren’t welcome in his house of worship, then our society as a whole is DOOMED.” — I love that! That is so, so true. Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

  47. Melinda says:

    Our son loved going to church and he went every week until someone told him or said in front of him that church was no place for him.We havent been back nor do we plan to.Glad things are working well for your family.

    • B.K. says:

      Oh Melinda, I am so sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, there are lots of mean, misguided people out there. I hate that it happens, but I really do think we have to perservere in these situations. They will have to answer to God for that. But in the meantime you have to take care of your son’s needs. I know you want to protect him. If you can’t take him back there, maybe you can find another church that will be accepting and loving? Don’t let one person keep your son from spending time with God’s people. Big hugs to you.

      • Ecj says:

        It’s true people are unkind and it’s especally sad when this occurs in church. It’s not isolated to special needs though. I know of a single mother (she was engaged and got pregnant and the man ran off) who recently started attending church and was very active. her beautiful daughter was now in her early 20s. She went out to lunch with a woman she went to church with whom she told her story to. The woman’s response (cruelly and judgementally) was “your daugther is a bastard then”. It takes me breath away that people who are supposed to showing the love of Christ can approach others this way. We are all sinners. That woman did as you are doing… she refused to attend that church or any church. I find that even sadder than the original transgression. Don’t let other ignorance and sinful unkindness keep you from the love of the Lord, fellowship with those who are NOT unkind and would embrace you and your child. It’s hard to overcome these kind of hurts . Pray for the strength to do so…

      • Professor says:

        Ecj, my daughter was born “out of wedlock.” Her father and I subsequently married, which may be why it doesn’t bother her, but she practically wears the word “bastard” as a badge of honor. She knows that she is a deserving human being and that is a word that the world applies to her, so she has taken it on as one of her missions in life to rehabilitate the word. As far as she is concerned there is nothing whatsoever bad implied in the word and she tells people that whenever they use the word pejoratively. I like her attitude. She is 13 now.

  48. sensibleviews says:

    We parents of our precious Auties need to take a more proactive role in educating our churches about our special kids. Many people don’t say anything or try to help because they don’t know what to do or what to say, and they are most likely afraid of offending by offering up advice or even consolation about a subject they are uneducated about.

    My daughter is 14 and was diagnosed when she was about 4&1/2 or 5. When I started a new church (one of the hardest things I’ve done in a while…) I took some time to take the youth pastor aside to explain our own situation. I let them know it was okay and even encouraged to ask me questions or to tell me if her behavior was inappropriate. I tried to tell them all the little tricks she uses and the ones I used to counteract them.

    With the autism rate growing by leaps and bounds every decade, the church will HAVE to educate themselves about living with autism as simply part of the Great Commission. I am glad that many thousands of churches have already gotten on the bandwagon!

    • B.K. says:

      I totally agree! It’s up to us to help them. They need us just as much as we need them. Thanks for commenting! :)

  49. Cheryl Bailey says:

    I was really blessed John was born in the church we have attended…many people witnessed his regression and it’s still a topic of conversation…17 years later. John regressed before our current pastor and family moved in. I had stopped attending about that same time as John’s rocking, twirling my hair, humming, and screams just seem wrong and disruptive to me. On learning this, our new pastor paid me a visit and told me the church was WHERE we belonged, you don’t hid your troubles and prayer request he told me, you share them so others can help carry your burden. Twice the church helped pay for services for John. Then, the rate of autism began to rise, there were lot’s of little head bangers around town. So the pastor took a section of the back of the church, and build a sound proof room with a huge window where you can see everything and hear thanks to speakers, but the congregation cannot hear your children. The room is optional, if you are uncomfortable in the main part of church, or need to be in there for sensory reason, do. If not, sit with everyone else, it’s a parents option. Go any Sunday and the room is full. Now parents dealing with many different forms of disability feel welcome after hearing that nothing was excluded. As for us, about a year ago we stopped attending due to John’s seizure and incontinence. I just felt the big mean seizures were too scary for some and I am not comfortable leaving John with others as long as he is in Depends. Still, I truly believe churches need to open their doors to all…and I have been blessed to see that loving spirit of God when it happens.

    • B.K. says:

      Cheryl, I love what your church has done. I would love our church to build a sound-proof room, that would help us so much. I hope your son’s seizures improve soon so that you can take him back!

  50. I am sharing this one! Great advice and a wonderful example to follow. I am certain that Jesus welcomes our kids to His presence…and this includes at our place of worship!!

    • B.K. says:

      Kelly, thank you! I love your book…it’s on my iPad! And I am subscribed to your You Tube page. This means a lot. Thank you!

  51. Shannon says:

    I attend a very large church and we have special environments for all children. Each age group has their own room and we have volunteers to assist and assign one volunteer for each child with special needs. My God daughter is autistic and she is in my class every week. I love that I get to minister to these precious children. And the parents are able to worship in the main gathering. :)

    • B.K. says:

      Wonderful! I hope more and more churches will start doing the same thing! I am eager to help other kids as well as my own. Thanks for commenting. :)

  52. WC says:

    I LOVE this! We are lucky in that we attends a small church but they have a class in childrens church that is for children with special needs. My daughter is not the only one there with autism and a few others who have delays and may be on the spectrum but are undiagnosed. We have been blessed. They welcomed our girl with open arms and they have someone shadowing her. I am so happy to hear your church is doing outreach. I know many who don’t attend for the same reasons. We have only been attending for a few months since we have moved here. I felt the same as you……not sure how she would be received.

    • B.K. says:

      Wonderful, WC! It seems like such a huge task, so I am extremely impressed when the smaller churches already have this need met. That makes me so happy to hear! Thanks for writing!

  53. recoveringgrace20 says:

    Love it… Sharing!

  54. Cherry says:

    As a parent who has been there and been the one that spearhead a special needs ministry for a season, I would encourage you to share with your leaders that since Autism is a spectrum, detailed questionnaires for parents to fill out are equally important to any outside training. Parents may not be experts on autism as a whole but they are the expert on their child. As a parent, anything that you have learned or you know that works with your child needs to be shared for church staff and volunteers to be best equipped to minister to your child.

    • B.K. says:

      Cherry, YES! In fact during the training, the teachers specifically asked for a questionaire, and one has since been written for that purpose. Thanks for your comment! :)

  55. Vicki Hill says:

    As churches plan special needs ministries for children, they need to recognize that children grow up. My 24 yo son hasn’t been to church since he aged out of the youth program at age 20. We left one church when he was age 12 because a minister thought having him present at youth events might ‘frighten’ the other youth into not attending. The church he attended during his teens was welcoming…until he became an adult. (Oh, they would still ‘welcome’ him, IF he could attend Sunday morning services with 1,000 plus others in a huge sanctuary. Sensory overload….)

    • B.K. says:

      Oh, Vicki, I am so sorry. That is sad. That is a good reminder that we need to be sure that there is a place for EVERYONE in church. I will keep praying about that. xoxo

    • luz Knight. says:

      Thank you so much for posting this. I keep trying to take my child to the church, despites all the comments or looks from others. They come see that autism its an epidemic and that they need to pray for our children. God bless you.

  56. drgrcevich says:

    Great reminder of why we do what we do…parents looking for a church that’s inclusive of kids with autism and parents who want their church to become more inclusive can contact our crew at Key Ministry…all of our training, consultation, resources and support are free of charge to churches…

    Contacts:
    Rebecca Hamilton (Director of Operations) rebecca@keyministry.org
    Katie Wetherbee (Director of Training) katie@keyministry.org
    Harmony Hensley (Director of Ministry) harmony@keyministry.org

    Stephen Grcevich, MD
    President, Board of Directors
    Key MInistry

    • B.K. says:

      Thank you so much, Dr. Grcevich! I will pass your info along to my Education Minister. God bless you for what you are doing.

  57. Jan Houston says:

    Our church has several special needs “children”. Three are adults, three are children. We have these kids in classes they feel comfortable in. We have an adult attending AWANA groups with the kindergarten through 2nd graders. We have another adult in the special needs room when that person cannot tolerate the regular service with the parents. In the special needs room, there are sensory pads,bean bags, and preschool toys. And videos. Lots of Barney and Thomas and Bob and Veggie Tales. Two of the children have autism. My son and the pastor’s child. We have a child who has a serious seizure disorder who attends. Most of the parents of these children are involved in ministry to some extent. Our church is not perfect, but they are making an attempt to reach the special needs community. I am so grateful that I can sit in a service and have my cup refilled, knowing that my son is happy and content where he is.

    • B.K. says:

      Jan, that is a wonderful example of how it should be, and it is the kind of program I hope will be the model for my church. Thanks for sharing!

  58. B.K. says:

    Thank you Janice! I will look for you on FB and will send you a friend request if that’s okay. I appreciate that! So AWESOME that you are the director!

  59. Janice says:

    So happy for you! We had this experience a few years back before finding our current church home which DOES offer a special needs ministry. It is an AMAZING program, of which I am now the director (see how God loves to bring us Autism Mommies full circle?). If at any point in time you would like guidance, tips, suggestions or ideas of what makes our ministry work, I am glad to help. Some of the best features of our program is the one on one aides, their training, regular meetings with families to discuss problems, ideas, successes and how to parallel what school and therapy strategies are working (like a sunday school IEP :). Best of all, our Sunday School runs DURING service so that parents can worship while the children are taken care of, and there isn’t the high demand on our children of attending for Sunday School and then being expected to sit through a service. I will pray for your church’s continued venture into serving special needs children and will comment on the FB page so you can contact me with any questions. God Bless!

  60. B.K. says:

    Thank you David, for sharing your story! I am glad to see others addressing these issues. I know we can make a huge difference in our places of worship, as long as we remember that it is up to take that big important first step. Happy Passover!

  61. Amen sister! I have 2 toddlers on the spectrum and our church has also been very supportive. Long story short, I took over our infant and toddler nursery’s so now we ARE more prepared and aware of disabilities. Has your church ever talked to the Key Ministry? Here is there link: http://www.keyministry.org/ They are very willing to provide free training for churches. Thanks for an awesome post!

  62. Kim says:

    I’m so glad you decided to bring your son to church. I am a strong Christian and believe all children need a foundation in the love of God and the knowledge of our Christian history. I have been bringing my son, now 12 to church (we call chapel ‘big church’) and Sunday school since he was 3 1/2 years old. Through the years, the church has been a place both he and I seek refuge in the love of God and the caring hearts of others. We too have experience some difficult times, but what I’ve learned is our presence there teaches others about autism and not to fear others with special needs. He now is the one when I want to sleep in or just be lazy about going will say, “Come on mom, let’s go to church, you know I love Sunday school.”
    Good luck and God Bless – KG

  63. David Browne says:

    Beautiful, thanks B.K.! At a weekly men’s Torah study group this last week before Passover and our inspiring and survival-critical Seder meal, I asked the following I the Rabbi: If I am responsible for teaching ALL my children of both the affliction of slavery and the redemptive power of freedom, how shall I use this learning moment or my Autistic 5 year old’s edification? The answer was somewhat expected, that G-d connects differently and more directly to those with special needs…

    While that is certainly what we as parens if children in the spectrum hope for, a more practical approach is what we are mulling even as I write the day before Passover. How best, in the context of a friends-and-family-filled home to engage with intimacy and love, a little boy who we cannot yet know is understanding.

    The reaction of the community and out religious institutions is a great step forward in this quest. When Churches and Synagogues and Mosques can create opportunities to integrate and accommodate those with special needs they bring us all closer to our higher source, and selves. We will start tomorrow with tight hugs held a bit too long to simulate “slavery” contrasted with loving kisses and jumps of joy with “freedom.”

    We will also start to bring our youngest of 5 to synagogue on larger holidays and work our way into the possibility of attending a Fruday night community service with him, perhaps in gradually increasing duration.

    Thanks fr sharing your most impactful story BK! We must keep our children visible and never give up in advocating for their fullest place in all the institutions of society that can make for better lives for all…

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