Make the Rough Places Plain   Leave a comment

In my most recent blog, I shared an open letter from an anonymous blogger about his experience in a local church.

I shared this letter in concert with the author in our mutual hope that by delineating his experience, we can transform future experiences for other individuals with autism.  I hope that by reading it, you will begin to understand some of the challenges faced by those on the spectrum and that you will know what you can do to change the status quo.

If it isn’t obvious what to do–read on.

My experiences so far with relationships with people on the autism spectrum, and others with disabilities, have given me a few ideas.

First, I think any church that makes it a priority to train its small group leaders and ministry team leaders can allot time to provide some simple information about autism–what it is and how it affects people.  There are increasing numbers of children and adults who are on the spectrum, so there will be more of them attending churches.  It makes sense to know how to reach out.  It makes sense to remove the simple barrier of ignorance.  A half hour session as a part of other training would be a great start.  Other special needs and differences might be included as well, since the key component in any interaction with anyone is respect for the individual.

With autism, it may not be so much that a person looks different, but that a person acts differently.  However, I’m confident that a little practice can take the fear out of interacting with any person who is different or has a disability.  I know it can be awkward at first.  I still think one-to-one respectful interaction works no matter who you’re interacting with.  As my guest blogger observed, making a big deal is not necessary.  A little bit of straightforward teaching providing the needed awareness is, in my opinion, all it would take.  Parents of children with disabilities and those with disabilities, let me know your thoughts, please.

Second, in any group setting, whether a large group like a church congregation, or a smaller one like an in-home group, to initiate and develop a relationship with a person on the autism spectrum and welcome him in will take a little effort.  A warm genuine greeting, followed up by follow-up, will open the door to relationship over time.  By follow-up I mean, check in with the person.  Whether that is next week at the next meeting, whether that is Sunday morning, whether that is by phone or text in a few weeks if you haven’t seen him, it doesn’t matter.  I mean follow-up.  Do something practical to show your interest and care.  After a few meetings, invite the person to join you for dinner in your home or elsewhere.  If he doesn’t seem ready for such an invitation, save it for later, but do it.

For a person with autism to be welcomed, it isn’t going to work for you to assume he will blaze his own trail into a group.

Also, many people with autism have a hard time remembering names and faces.  Especially in a large group setting, such as a chaotic church vestibule, it is very difficult to pick out individuals in the crowd.  It all blurs together, and can become overwhelming.  So, when you see the person at church, greet him.  Don’t be offended if he doesn’t remember your name.  Don’t be offended if he seems stiff and unsure.  Don’t wait for him to initiate with you.  The fact that he’s there, in the building, can be a huge effort for him.

Once the person is included in a group, he can feel more comfortable, and will eventually get to know other people in the group.  He has a great deal to contribute–insights in discussion, and loyalty in friendship.

Honestly, it only takes one person.

One person to consistently and faithfully initiate in friendship.  Once that one person draws the other person in and he experiences welcome, he will develop friendships and relationships with the other people in the group.

Christ welcomes us.  By definition, we welcome each other.

 

 

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Posted May 27, 2016 by swanatbagend in autism, the church

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