an autism journey

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Becoming a Welcoming Church for Special Needs Families

Ever since my first post about Autism in the Church, I have continued to get questions from leaders in churches as to how a church can minister to special needs families. I often hear things like, “our church just doesn’t have the volunteers for that. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the resources. We don’t know how.” I get it. I really do. I am not only a special needs mom. I am a pastor’s wife. I know how tight finances can be. I know how limited volunteers are. I know not every church is equipped to develop and implement a grand special needs program. Here is the thing. That’s NOT an excuse for not MINISTERING TO special needs families.

Ministering to special needs families is something EVERY church can do. What I am about to tell you is important…. You don’t have to have a specific special needs ”ministry” to “minister to” special needs individuals and their families. Did you hear what I am saying? Let me say it again. YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A SPECIFIC SPECIAL NEEDS MINISTRY TO MINISTER TO SPECIAL NEEDS INDIVIDUALS AND THEIR FAMILIES. Too many churches are confusing specific ministries with ministering to. When I think of a ministry, I think of programming. I think of a special needs ministry being a specific program that reaches out specifically to special needs. Perhaps there is a special class during worship. Maybe a church implements a buddy system where a trained adult is paired with a special needs individual to allow them to participate in children’s church. Perhaps a church has once a month caregivers night out where they plan activities for special needs individuals and provide caregiving services. These are all great things. I wish each and every church could do that, but, the reality is, not all churches can.

That is still not an excuse to not minister to special needs families, and here’s why. The things mentioned above are specific “ministries.” They are not essential to “ministering to” special needs families. When I think of “ministering to,” I think of attracting, inviting, welcoming, encouraging, loving, supporting, sharing God’s Love, praying for, offering friendship, compassion, and understanding. That is ministering to. That is something every church can and should be doing.

There is no reason why any church cannot do that. If your church isn’t, then its time to ask why? A special needs family should feel comfortable and accepted in your church. They should feel like they matter. They should feel loved.

The Bible tells us that each and every one of us are a part of the body of Christ and if we exclude any one person or group of people from that, especially for something like special needs, we are saying to God, that part of the body doesn’t matter. That is a dangerous position for any church to take.

I encourage you if you are a special needs family, find a church that will minister to you. Make that a priority far higher than any special programs they may or may not have. If you are a church leader, I encourage you to take a look at your church. Are their special needs families in attendance? If so, great continue to include, love, and support them. If there are not special needs families in church, you better stop and ask why. It might be you need to take a hard look at who is welcome in your church.


A Not So Typical Halloween

Holidays can be wonderful and amazing, but they can also be a tough reminder that our lives are not typical. Halloween is no exception. I have always allowed my son to dress up for Halloween. We picked something that was sensory friendly and prepared him ahead of time by talking about what we were going to do. Our church had a special trunk or treat event so we took him to that and only that. He knew the people passing out candy, and they knew his situation. Everyone was right there together, so he didn’t have to walk far or knock on doors. Perfect. Well, not exactly. It still caused him stress. He was nervous about walking up to the cars. He didn’t quite understand that you get one piece, not a handful. He was frightened by some of the costumes, and the groups of kids in close proximity was a bit much for him to handle. For us, Halloween lasted about 10 minutes and then we were back home. Each year I wondered why I bothered putting him through the stress of it all. Was I trying to force him to what I thought was a childhood rite of passage? Was I pushing a typical activity on a nontypical kid? Every year I ended up thinking maybe I should just have let him stay home. But somehow the next year we were right back at it with the same results.

So, this year, I didn’t think it would bother him to just skip the trick or treating. We just moved a couple months ago to a brand new town. We don’t know very many neighbors, and our new church doesn’t do a trunk or treat event, so our only option was old fashioned door to door. On top of all that, the forecast was calling for low temps and heavy rain. He doesn’t like to wear a rain jacket, a hood, or use an umbrella. The whole thing just didn’t seem worth it. It made me a little sad, but I just didn’t think he would be able to handle going door to door of strangers in the mass sea of costumed kids. I didn’t know that we could safely manage it. I opted to keep him home. I bought a huge bag of candy with his favorites (so he could enjoy as well) and prepared to simply pass out treats. He wasn’t going to care, or so I thought. I was wrong.

As kids started coming to the door, he insisted “shoes and socks.” When I asked where he wanted to go… “get candy.”

Ugh. I tried to explain, but he just didn’t understand. I clearly made the wrong choice. Chalk another one up to a special needs parenting failure. I thought it would be too much for him to handle and I made a choice I thought was best and safest, but he didn’t know that. He just knew what the others kids were doing and that he wasn’t. Parenting is tough enough, parenting a special needs child is even harder. And yet again another event to remind us how different our lives are for him and us.

Thankfully, Reese’s cups and KitKats cure a world of hurt fairly quickly. For him and me.

The Vaccine Debate and Why I No Longer Care

As the mother of a child with autism, there is one question that I am asked more than any other…. Do you think vaccines cause autism? I have to say that I am sick and tired of hearing (and answering) that question. The reality is that most people don’t really want to hear my true opinion on that subject, what they really want is for me to agree with whatever side they are on. It is the one question that can instantly change the mood in the room and start a fiery debate, and I find it interesting that it is always those who DON’T have a child with autism that seem most inclined to argue about it. Here is the thing…. I just don’t care anymore to engage in that whole debate.

When my son was first diagnosed, I played that game. I researched and studied, I asked lots of questions and formed my own “educated opinion,” and yes, I have earned the right to call my opinion “educated” (I live it). I needed to know what happened to my son. I  needed something or someone to blame for this battle, but eventually I became so wrapped up in caring for my son and helping him through his daily struggles, that at some point, I lost the desire to focus on what was already done and couldn’t be changed. I no longer was researching, no longer asking the questions, no longer seeking the answers to the whys because I was focused on the what now and the what about the future?

I was caught up in raising a child with autism, as it should be. My time and attention was, and is, fully focused on how to help him. It takes a lot of time to raise a child with autism. There are doctor appointments, multiple therapy sessions every week, educational meetings. There just isn’t time to waste on anything that doesn’t make the lives of our children better. Maybe it was part of the healing process, I don’t know. What I do know is that if people put half as much emotion and passion that they put into the vaccine debate into raising autism awareness and acceptance, into teaching their children that kids with autism are more like them than they are different, if they reached out a helping hand rather than a judgmental word, the world could actually start a change for the better. If people stopped arguing over the whys, and started asking how can we help, families would be healed, children would be saved, and lives would be impacted in a way that would actually make a difference. My son and children just like him could live a life respected, and seen as equal rather than less, they could have a bright future.

So, if you are looking to learn more about my son or other individuals with autism, ask away, but if you are looking for an argument over the whys, ask someone else, because I am busy.

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