When I first started asking around in the Asperger’s and Autism community about the whole church issue, the stories I heard made me mad. By the time I’d gotten a few more responses, I was sad. Overwhelmingly sad. The stories did not stop coming.
It breaks my heart when people say they regret staying at their church and wished they had left sooner.
The responses I gathered were from Christian people desiring fellowship. Many of these believers are actively seeking a church or Bible study in spite of bad experiences.
Why is church so hard for people on the autism spectrum?
Getting to the Church on Time, Late, or At All
Every mom knows this is a battle, but with Autism Spectrum Disorder it is multiplied. Most people on the spectrum have terrible issues with insomnia, getting restorative sleep, and waking. When I say trouble waking, I am not kidding. A regular topic is how to wake up. I read somewhere in an autism advocate’s writings about the need for an alarm clock that shakes and shrieks.
Trouble organizing, estimating and managing time, the other hundred hurdles every day brings with sensory, eating difficulties, motor skills issues, and so on make getting out challenging on any day. Sunday is no exception.
Sensory Overloads and Processing Problems
Sensory overload is another big issue. Loud music, flashing lights, over powering perfume add up to an sensory cocktail that can quickly overload. While these things may be a minor irritation to some, for others the input is akin to a sensory onslaught.
The format and language of today’s church can be difficult for a literal-minded person to understand. An emphasis on emotion rather than thought and logic make it hard to grasp the message.
It is a social setting. This is a minefield for someone who can’t read body language, has difficulty recognizing faces, or any of the myriad of other cognitive or social skills typically lacking in a person with ASD. Often, children and young adults are expected to be “friends” at church to the same people who bullied the child at school. People who greet with a hug then ignore the minute they step out of the church door, or even before, will probably be interpreted as hypocritical.
Rejection at Church
Rejection and bullying is something I heard about over and over when I brought up the issue of church. Family members of all ages were bullied. Adults bullied children. Being rejected by people at church is an issue I heard about over and over. You can read about an instance that happened to my kids at church here.
And, no, this one situation did not cause us to leave that church. Often we have to weigh the cruelty of ignorant people against the benefit for our children of continuing to attend.
One of my kids visited a local church a while back. An adult in the youth group began making derogatory statements about persons with disabilities. The fact that this man felt comfortable saying these things in front of leadership and the students made it clear this was not a place we cared to be. Talk about how to keep visitors from coming back!
While the majority of people are kind and caring, I’m sad to say I wasn’t particularly surprised by this encounter.
People assume that since this person is not connecting socially they are not aware of these slights, but sometimes appearances are deceiving. Some autistics are exceptionally intuitive. The inability to express oneself does not necessarily mean a person has no thoughts or feelings on a matter.
Leadership that avoids their students with more needs, or even become hostile to students who ask too many questions is a frequent problem parents cited. Aspies tend to have no qualms responding to the challenge to “prove me wrong”. A lack of social skills coupled with honest answers from a young person who may have an above average IQ can be misinterpreted by youth workers and lead to exclusion.
Do You Want to Be the Church?
I was heartened to find some excellent resources for churches and ministries interested in reaching the “one out of the ninety-nine” as Dr. Stephen Grcevich from Key Ministry put it.
This YouTube video is a good condensation explaining a complicated topic. I think it is an excellent start.
Why Church Should Be Accessible
I talked to many parents. Most have tried church after church. Many gave up on ever finding a church home. Some of the children, scarred and confused by their church experiences, have given up on God. Not all have not turned away. There are those who continue to search for a place to belong, a safe haven to worship and fellowship with other believers. People they can call “brother”.
Some church leaders think church is for the majority, and they can’t afford to spend time making church available to everyone.
God has designed every person with a purpose. There is room in the body for every believer.
God has designed every person with a purpose. There is room in the body for every believer. (Tweet This)
Dr. Grcevich stated in the video that he believes God has a reason for the influx of students and people with Asperger’s and similar conditions.
Qualities common to people with Asperger’s are the tendency to be truth and knowledge seekers, be persistent in faith, have a strong sense of morality, be deep thinking, justice minded, and analytical, to have zero tolerance for hypocrites, and pay no heed to church politics.
Is there room at your church for these kind of people?
I felt the need to add to this post for clarity after some feedback from readers.
People with Asperger’s don’t need a special program. Dr. Grcevich explains in the video above that being funneled into the typical special needs ministry would not serve well and be completely inappropriate. What do they need? Respect, understanding, and a helping hand every now and then.
If this post resonated with you, please share it. Have something to add? Join the conversation by commenting below. I want to hear from you!
To get we have to give. If we want to be blessed, then we bless others. If we want to be ridiculously blessed, then we need to get ready to dig deep.
We have to be brave. We have to be willing to look silly or awkward. Many times God will nudge us to get outside our box, but the idea of doing something unexpected or different causes a freeze up. Don’t worry about how you appear. Once I sent a simple note to a lady who I had barely spoken to before. She was much older than I, a fixture in the church I grew up in. I took a little blue flowered note card out of its package and wrote her. I told her how she encouraged me by always faithfully showing up. It may have been three lines, if that. The next time I saw her she cried and told me how she had been thinking of leaving the church.
Don’t ignore those nudges. They are there for a reason, of importance and significance.
Another time I got a message for someone I had briefly met the week before. Since I did not know her and had not even had a conversation of any substance with her, I was apprehensive about delivering this message but forged ahead. When I gave her the sheet of paper she grabbed me so hard she scared me. It was exactly what she needed to hear and her reaction demonstrated that fact. I asked her if it was all right to share the piece and she said yes. You can read it here.
Being allowed to deliver God’s personal love letters is one of the most exquisite blessings. It’s not something I am willing to give up. The risk of feeling silly is a small price to pay, and you know what? Never has anyone rejected a kind word. We are all at one time or another walking wounded in need of balm. It is our rightful blessing to claim the occupation of helper to our fellow travelers.
Be extravagant. Not necessarily with money, but with whatever is available. It could be money. Buy a struggling family Christmas. Oh, now THAT is something that will bless all parties involved. If money is lacking, there are other ways to over-the-top bless someone. Years ago during mom to toddlers days, my friend was having one of those hard, hard days. We talked on the phone for a long time, but it did not seem to help. I called my husband and had him come watch the kids while they napped. I wanted to surprise her with a delivery of something to cheer her. I brought her chocolate shakes. Yes, that is plural. One didn’t seem to be enough. Neither she nor I have forgotten my extravagant impulse to over-provide chocolate on that particular blues and laughter filled day.
Put some thought into it. There are things that hold special meaning to people in our lives. With a little thought, we know how to reach hearts. Yesterday my daughter made a bottle for her friend who is moving away. The idea of a message in a bottle (cue the waterworks) is special to them and holds particular memories. The bottle is stuffed with many affirming and precious notes written from my daughter to her friend. Just looking at this gift of love and care from one friend to another makes you want to go grab a Kleenex, doesn’t it?
There are so many ways to claim our blessings by being a blessing.
Do you have any ideas on how to be a ridiculous, brave, extravagant, thoughtful blessing today?
No one else can live our dreams for us. To place what is in one’s heart, superimposing it on an another’s destiny, is a cowardly ambition. To allow people to use us in such a way is almost as bad.
Our dreams are our own. People will tell us that we are not good enough. They will say, “you are not an artist,” or “not educated enough,” or “the right kind,” and that they know better. They lie.
You are beautifully and wonderfully made, complete with a destiny, a fire in the belly. It’s your job to stoke it, regardless of how many wet blankets come along oh-so-eager to smother.
Forget nurturing the tiny spark with gentleness, hiding from naysayers. Make the fire roar so they don’t have a chance to extinguish the flame.
Forget nurturing the tiny spark with gentleness, hiding from naysayers. Make the fire roar. (Tweet This)
Some people disrespect you because their eyes are too full of their own failures to see beyond the smallness of themselves. Don’t be them. Tend to your own vision. Do this and you will recognize the greatness in fellow travelers.
There is no need to push others aside, because the road prepared for you is your own. The obstacles there are your own as well. It is your job to take them on.
Do not go against what God has prepared for you. Figure out what you are here for and get to it. Dreams can be quiet and simple, but must be large to your own eyes. Dig around in your soul and find them. Understand the uniqueness of your calling. Understand the value of your deepest hopes and why they are imbedded in your being.
There are prizes you will never receive. Goals unreachable and impossible. They all look that way from where you are standing right now. No one can say with the slightest speck of certainty what dreams are within your reach.
No one can say with the slightest speck of certainty what dreams are within your reach. (Tweet This)
Passion and destiny collide. With all the tears and bloody bruising, it’s not always pretty. But it is always exquisite, your beautiful dream, big and gorgeously audacious in the middle of ambition and grit.
The joy is in the pursuit of destiny, not in trophies or glittery accolades.
I get weary. Who doesn’t? But lately I have been pondering growing weary. Not being weary, but growing it.
To grow something you have to feed it. Good or bad, growing things must have a source of light, water, and food. Conditions have to be right. Shelter from predators and inclement conditions must be provided.
I never considered the concept of growing weary like I grow other things like faith and patience. I can see how a person could feed weariness. Negative thoughts, listening to wrong people, forgetting Who is really in charge here, neglecting to recharge and encourage ourselves; all of these things help weariness thrive.
Our souls will always filled by something. Even when we say we are empty we are speaking of a feeling of darkness, despondency, or negativity. Our world is designed with no gaps, the spaces filling up as soon as there is an inch of available space. Something pushes in. Something grows.
To raise something we want, we cultivate, preparing the soil and digging as deep as future roots require. No shallow scraping out of a handful of dirt, the shovel digs deep. If the earth resists, we dampen with water, forcing softness out of stubbornness. We do this without taking affront. It is the nature of things.
It is also the nature within us that prompts us to prepare for a large thing, a deep thing. This is faith.
We loosen the earth, raking, grabbing handfuls of dirt and squeezing, breaking, understanding that the goodness will not give itself up to those who refuse to work. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty. You have to be willing to have faith.
Your faith must be large enough that you feed and water the plants and protect them constantly. Unguarded and neglected, they rarely produce. Even the strong, well established plants are no match for a sudden frost, or hungry caterpillars.
Except of course, for the never ending weeds. This is the battle. Plants that give us life, and plants that choke out those that give us sustenance.
We choose what we will grow.
Death and life. Build or destroy.
It is very easy to grow weariness if we succumb. It is a natural thing, like weeds. Something is going to flourish in every gap we leave open. There is no empty space.
No one intends to propagate weeds. They creep in when attention is elsewhere, taking advantage of every opportunity. Before you know it, they are tall and strong, arrogantly taking over the place if we let them.
A garden needs regular tending. A calling needs feeding.
Do not grow weary.
Today I will feed my soul with Truth and not grow weary. If I keep my focus on the tending of my destiny, refusing negative thoughts, weariness will have a much harder time taking hold.
I have been thinking a great deal about what direction I want to go with my writing, my ministry, my life. Words to me are a necessary as breath. When my hands don’t work I speak, and when I can’t speak or move, songs run themselves through my mind. Lyrics and melody of the original kind.
Surely this is my life calling.
It is who I am. A writer.
Now I am asking myself why I write and who am I writing for?
I write because we hurt. I write for you.
In my very first adult writing class my teacher told me, “You should write for troubled youth.” I didn’t know what to do with that. I didn’t think I was really cut out for teen ministry. Not any specific ministry, really. Mostly I encourage people without considering their outsides or position. Everybody’s been through stuff. I’ve been through stuff.
My heart’s desire has been to give shelter, a safe place, and to have that for myself as well. I need to nurture, to encourage and lift up even while I am nothing but a cripple, cobbled by my own bondage, never quite able to permanently shed the constricting cords of the past.
I pray. Give hugs. Write prayers for people. Pen bad poetry and better stories to point the way. Sing. Try to tell the truth. Share sorrow.
Life has concentrated me until this is all I can do. What will He fashion from this frailty? What will He do with me, a broken girl?
I have written a book. Some will not see what is meant only for the heart it was intended for. The message is gentle, because the girl it is written for will not be harshly led. She is one of the fragile souls. I have wrapped truth in a story for her, only her.
Now to find a way to set the words out, hoping they find home, the place where they were always meant to rest. The heart of every girl who needs to hear these specific words of comfort.
Stop toiling and doing and producing for the food that perishes and decomposes [in the using], but strive and work and produce rather for the [lasting] food which endures [continually] unto life eternal; the Son of Man will give (furnish) you that, for God the Father has authorized and certified Him and put His seal of endorsement upon Him.
They then said, What are we to do, that we may [habitually] be working the works of God? [What are we to do to carry out what God requires?] John 6:27-28 AMP
It’s so easy to lose sight, get caught up in the physical. Bodily needs and desires make themselves immediately known. They cannot be ignored, at least not for very long.
It is right and good to take care of the needs of those I am responsible for. The trouble comes when the necessary exertion to make those provisions becomes so important it becomes all consuming. My primary purpose is forgotten.
Even being focused on service has pitfalls. I start out pursuing the goal, but all too often it becomes lost in the work itself as I labor. Then things can get fleshy. The purity is gone, replaced by a spiritual sounding to-do list that masks striving for personal satisfaction. No longer am I producing anything of lasting eternal value. Instead, I produce a lot of stress for myself, dissatisfaction, and feelings of inadequacy or depression.
I have become distracted from my one true mission.
What are the works of God?
I love the way Jesus simplifies things.
Jesus replied, This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger]. John 6:29 AMP
We are always in danger of death so that the life of Jesus may be seen.
You have to die before you can go to heaven. Before we can even begin to experience the heavenly life our souls long for, the physical body must die.
Before we can be spiritually reborn and pass from the death of merely existing on this planet into the life of being one with Christ, we have to die to our old ways, our will.
Because we follow Him, relationships are in danger. Some of them will die.
To make people see Jesus, you must act as He acts. Forgive. Serve. Feed. Weep. Die to self. Be vulnerable. No follower of Christ gets a pass on this assignment.
And we don’t get to decide which people we minister to. He does.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
I’m so glad He’s here with me, every single time I face death.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.