How the church is failing special needs families in these modern times is a real travesty. It’s understandable in a day and age when everyone is so busy with their own schedule. Isn’t that Satan’ greatest asset though? He aims to keep you busy with trivial stuff so you won’t be about the work of expanding God’s Kingdom. You arrive at the end of your life to realize that you never actually did the work God set out for you.
When we first started attending church , it was just me and Logan. Michael worked at Disney so he had Monday & Tuesdays off. We went to a lot of churches including one that asked me not to return with Logan. I was welcome to visit anytime but it would be best to leave him with someone else. I laughed in their face. First, who goes to church without their child. Second, where was I going to find this mystery person to watch Logan on Sunday mornings? They clearly didn’t have a clue about autism.
It was years before I attempted to return to church. This time, Madison was a baby which made Logan a kindergartener. We went to a different church. While they accepted Logan at that time, no one welcomed us. No one contacted us after our visit . We went a few more times before the logistics of getting 2 small children to church on time became too much for me. I was sitting in a sanctuary full of people feeling lonelier than ever. It was a dark time for me. I would have given anything for someone to have chatted with me or taken an interest in my family.
A few more years went by before we tried again. Neither Michael nor I were raised going to church regularly. I so wanted my children to have that experience. Logan was in 4th grade which made Madison a kindergartener. I was in the throes of a major depression. I was a sahm who was never without her children. There was no respite for me. Michael was working overtime in an effort to pay the bills plus Logan’s therapies. If I didn’t find someone to watch them for at least an hour , someone was going to die. I could see myself running away alone and never coming back. I went back to the same church as before thinking at least they didn’t tell me I couldn’t come back.
Something amazing happened at this point. The children’s pastor, Mr. Frank, greeted me in the sanctuary where I was sitting with the children. He gave us a brief tour of the children’s area. He asked me loads of questions about Logan and autism. He let me tell them where Logan would do best. He then told me to go to the service. He would personally stay with Logan. If I was needed, he would send someone for me. I then spent the most blissful hour of the week sitting alone listening to the Word of God. No one came to get me. They actually seemed like they had fun with Logan when I picked him up. This began the best 5 years of our church experience.
Mr. Frank wasn’t happy just making it possible for Logan to attend. He made the appropriate accommodations for Logan to be successful. It wasn’t enough for him that Logan be able to attend. He wanted Logan to join in with the other children . He wanted Logan to experience church just like a typical child. Whatever it took to make Logan successful is what Mr. Frank did. He counseled other teachers on ways to make the classroom work for Sunday School. He added chaperones to events so there was always someone to aide Logan if needed. He called the camp counselors to tell them that to do it a different way for Logan. He was 100% invested in making church work for Logan.
Youth group time came which was a tough transition for Logan. I leaned heavily on Mr. Frank’s wisdom during that time. Not everything was rainbow and unicorns. I still felt like it could work for us there. It was still my forever church. I never doubted that everyone was working for Logan at that point. Change was hard for all of us. We perservered through it until it became inevitable that it wasn’t working anymore. Even then I tried to make it work. I offered suggestions but was met with resistance. It quickly became obvious that the new leadership felt that their obligation was simply to allow Logan to attend. They didn’t need to make it successful for Logan because it wasn’t their responsibility. The fact that he couldn’t join in without help wasn’t their problem. I mean ,come on , they had unsaved children to preach to. There was no time for a kid with autism who knew Jesus already. They had more important things to do in their opinion.
That’s where the problem laid. Imagine if Mr. Frank had not taken the time or initiative to make church work for Logan. We would not have been able to send him to camp. He would not have been able to attend VBS where he was saved. There are literally dozens of our family members who now attend church or are saved that would not be had Mr. Frank decided it wasn’t his responsibility. If Mr. Frank hadn’t put in the extra work for a family mired in the darkness of autism, our lives would be much different.
That’s where most churches fail these families. It’s not enough to let them come to church. It’s not enough to say that you have no problem with their attendance. You have to step out to meet their needs. Find ways to make it successful for the whole family. Child has a food allergy? Make something they can eat so child doesn’t have to watch everyone else eat. Child needs someone to walk the halls with them because the worship music is too loud? Have a team ready to take turns. Child needs to be in a younger class to meet their developmental level? So be it.
Encourage other children to befriend the special needs child. Find ways for the child to join in even if that means they need a 1:1 aide with them . Give the special needs child meaningful jobs to do so they can be a part of the group. Notice that I said meaningful. Don’t give them a job you have no plans of them actually doing to keep their mom happy. Mom will find out and there will be hell to pay. That may or may not be experience talking there.
Including a child with special needs will affect his whole family. This is an important ministry that is being overlooked. As the autism numbers increase every year, the church can not continue to ignore the problem. With a heavy heart, we changed churches. Lost is my dream for a forever church. Disillusioned describes both my children. I’m sad for my family. I’m sad for all the families that I speak to that don’t have a church home. No one has welcomed them. No one has made them feel like family. No one has gone the extra mile like Mr. Frank. I’m positive that makes Jesus sad as well.