Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children. Autism Awareness: How the church can be prepared. Meet the Higgins. Melanie Michaela Kelli Chris. Michaela 8 years old, 3 rd grade Autism Spectrum Disorder: Higher-functioning
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Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children.
Autism Awareness: How the church can be prepared
Michaela8 years old, 3rdgradeAutism Spectrum Disorder: Higher-functioning
Hypersensitive to sounds and smells. Very energetic. Academically at grade level. “Mainstreamed” among neuro-typical children. Loves “My Little Pony” and rockets.
Melanie4 years old, developmental pre-schoolAutism Spectrum Disorder
Hyposensitive: high pain tolerance. Pre-verbal. Eating difficulties (overstuffs). Very curious and loves to bounce, figure out puzzles, use the iPad, play with dolls and “My Little Pony.”
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills along with sensory issues.
With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.
Meltdowns: they’re not just tantrums!
Often anxious of entering uncontrolled or new environments
Experience worry of “judgment” from others
Worry that their children are a “burden” to others
Embarrassment when their child(ren) acts-out or experiences a meltdown around others
Sometimes feels isolated
Why parents of children with autism feel they can/cannot become part of a church or faith community.
Ideas and resources on how to become a welcoming community of faith to special-needs families.
Parents of children with autism often feel “pitied” or “patronized”
“They’ll be OK” is not reassuring!
Listen – many parents sometimes just need a friendly ear.
Oftentimes help is needed, but parents may be afraid to ask. It’s OK to ask the parent if they need help with something.
Crowded spaces: special worship services (Christmas, Easter, large rooms,lobbies, etc.)
Routine: provide a “regular” seat or location for families, if requested.
Routine: changes in worship orders can cause anxiety
Using props (especially noisy!) during children’s moments/worships.
The best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation:
A simple heads-up on changes in worship, decorations, or the use of louder or unusual sounds can make the world of difference in how children with autism react to certain situation and stimuli.
This prevents many parents of children with autism from attending church regularly.
Do a “safety audit” – make sure basic child safety guidelines are being observed
Keep outside doors closed – especially those leading to parking lots or streets.
An adult needs to be with autistic children at all times – unless otherwise specified by a parent.
Some children with autism may need one-to-one assistance.
Many organizations have programs available to train volunteers, Sunday School teachers, and staff on how to manage and assist a child with autism.
Always include children with autism in regular class activities, when possible.
Provide a “reserved” seat for children with autism to help encourage routine.
Again, the best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation:
A simple heads-up on changes in Sunday school routine, redecorated or refurnished rooms, new room assignments, and new curriculum can make a big difference in how a child with autism reacts to new situations.
Autism Society of Indianawww.autismsocietyofindiana.org“Allies” are a great resource on education and how to start the process of your congregation becoming special-needs friendly.
Easter Seals Crossroadswww.eastersealscrossroads.orgRespite: giving caretakers breaks. “Parent's Day Out”
Autism Speakswww.autismspeaks.orgGeneral information and national/local advocacyas well as information for faith-based organizations.
Local Autism Support Groups
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