Does your church accept the reality of Autism (or Aspergers)?

I know a number of people who are on the "Autism Spectrum."  Some of them are people are greatly admire and respect.  But I have some pastor friends who believe Autism is a myth or an excuse.

Although churches rarely have written stances on the issue, this poll question is really more like, "Does your pastor (or perhaps you yourself -- if you are the pastor) and leadership of your church recognize Autism (or Aspergers, a common form of Autism) as a reality? Do you think we should try to accommodate people who have this diagnosis?  Or is it all a farce propagated by a movement to avoid holding people responsible?

Incidentally, smaller churches have often worked with such people, and, because of their family-like, accepting personality, developed them.  Large churches sometimes have special classes for Autistic or special-needs students.  So there is more than one way to address the issue, if you agree that the issue exists.

Yes, we try to work with people on the Autism Spectrum -- or we would if we had them.
79% (15 votes)
Somewhat; we are divided over the reality of the condition.
0% (0 votes)
No, we think that Autism may be real in a few instances, but is not widespread as believed.
5% (1 vote)
No, we think that the whole category is incorrect.
0% (0 votes)
Undecided or weighing it at the present.
16% (3 votes)
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 19
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There are 10 Comments

josh p's picture

I hope so for my son's sake! We are new there so not many people know that he is on the spectrum since it is hard to tell. They are really loving and helpful to a family with two Down Syndrome children so I expect they would accept it.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Like anything else, it's occasionally misdiagnosed, etc. And how it should be handled is a whole different topic.But it's absolutely not a made-up thing. I can't say that we consciously do anything special to deal w/it at our church though.

Larry Nelson's picture


We have a policy of striving to "mainstream" (if you will) individuals with Autism or Aspergers.  To achieve this, we do some specific things:

1. We pair autistic children (depending upon their individual level of need) with a volunteer adult helper/companion who accompanies the child to his or her Sunday School class.  The adult companion unobtrusively stays with the child, helping to maintain their focus, and freeing the teacher from becoming distracted by perhaps having to constantly maintain an especially watchful eye on the child. 

I have taught maybe 5 or 6 autistic children over the past several years in S.S., and our companion program is a big reason why.  Parents with autistic children tend to gravitate to churches that proactively welcome them and provide means to accommodate them.

2. We also have a purpose-designed "quiet room" in our S.S. wing that provides a temporary refuge for autistic children who might become briefly overwhelmed by the clamor/commotion that can sometimes exist in our building.  (We have over 2,000 people in the building on Sunday mornings.)  Special furniture, subdued lighting, a soothing color-scheme, etc. provides a calming place for an overly-stimulated or anxious child.

3. For special-needs adults, we also strive to provide means & areas in which they can serve that they typically wouldn't find elsewhere.                


Larry Nelson's picture


The two are frequently confused or conflated.  While symptoms of the two can overlap, there are distinctions, and they are not the same. 


pvawter's picture

We have the privilege in our tiny church of ministering to a single-parent family with twins who are autistic. They have become completely integrated into the body, and we love them very much. They have recently started serving as ushers. Before they came to our church, they tried a number of other churches in the area and found them to be very un-welcoming to children on the spectrum, but when they came into our church, they were embraced as friends and it has made all the difference.

I think that churches could and should go out of their way to make autistic children welcome and let parents know that we care about the unique needs and gifts of their children.


JD Miller's picture

Our youngest son has been diagnosed as autistic.  I wrote the following article for a column in that I write for the local paper to address some aspects of his diagnosis and our approach to parenting an autistic son:

     Many of our readers already know that our youngest son is autistic. His talking is delayed and he has a few other habits that are unique to him. For example, when I ask him to do something, he wants to be able to finish what he is currently doing before moving on to the next task. We expect our boys to obey their parents and to obey right away, but we also recognize that autism causes people to look at tasks differently.
     We were recently asked how much we let our son “get away” with because he is autistic. The person was asking because he knew of parents who had children diagnosed with certain conditions and those children were allowed to behave terribly.
     My answer was that sin is never acceptable and that as a parent I had to punish sinful behavior. At the same time, I recognize that because he has autism, there will be situations where immediate obedience will be more difficult for him than it will be for his brothers. With that in mind, we try to give him advanced notice when we tell him to do something so that he has more time to follow through. In other words, we do not want to put him in a place where we are hoping he fails at obeying his parents, but we also want him to understand that obedience is not an option to be ignored.
     Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (NASB) Colossians 3:20 states, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” (NASB) But then the next verse says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (NASB)
     As parents, we must enforce standards, but we must also realize that God has shown grace to us and we must show grace to our children. In many ways, God is like a strict parent who will not tolerate any misbehavior. In fact, He is so strict that he tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. Yet God is so loving, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That payment only benefits us if we believe on Him as we trust Christ as our savior. Once we have done that, we become children of God, but that does not mean that we can do whatever we want. God is still a strict Father. Hebrews 12:5-11 says,
“and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. ” (NASB)
God is loving and merciful, yet He still disciplines us for our sins in order to make us more like Him. That should motivate us as parents to be consistent in disciplining our children when they sin. As long as we do not do it in a way that exasperates them, they will be better off because of the discipline.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Thanks so much for that, JD. You have clearly wrestled with some hard questions & made every effort to answer them biblically.
Even for non-autistic kids (and non-kids) there is so much to be said for making obedience easier than disobedience!
Help ppl succeed rather than just demanding that they succeed.

DWampler's picture

Kind of resurrecting this old topic but I'm curious how your church would handle a situation  where an adult with autism is present in the church service but is somewhat distracting. We have a family in our church where the parents are very involved with responsibilities during the service but their 21 year old daughter sits alone and does some things that would distract the average person. We are in a small church where attendance varies between 20 and 150 folks. We're in a tourist town so there are many visitors in the summer. These visitors have no idea who this girl is that is talking to herself, rustling papers and moving constantly. The regular members all know her, of course, and understand she has a disability. Occasionally she'll get up and walk out but return shortly for no apparent reason, all the while talking to her imaginary friends. How do you think your church would handle this? Do nothing? Ask the family not to bring her to the church services?

Mostly I've seen programs for autistic children addressed in church but I can't find much about how to handle an adult with Autism or Tourettes where there actions can be distracting. I don't mean to be cruel, I'm just searching for a method to help our church with this situation. Any feedback?

Crystal's picture

If the disturbances are just as were mentioned in that brief comment then absolutely no way would I ever suggest to the parents that they not bring her to services.  
1- Her family needs to be in a church family.  If your church doesn't welcome them with open arms who will?  Statistically, very *very* few.  
2-She needs to be in a church family.  The fact that your regular members/attenders understand her extra challenges and, I assume from the lack of information to the contrary, accept her as part of them is HUGE.  Absolutely huge.  You have no idea how much that encourages me.  I am JD's wife. (Poster above a few comments that wrote an article about some of what we have dealt with with our son.)  Just this last Sunday there was a family that visited our church plant.  All of the kids had a grand old time playing after services but I could tell that R was getting WAY overstimmed and was starting to have a really hard time as a result.  I called him over to me several times, helped him calm down and allowed him to go back and play.  He *really* wanted to play with the kids this time and I did what I could to help him be able to do that.  Our regulars all have been SO kind to R and have been very understanding of the challenges he faces.  It has been such a blessing to us.  
As far as her "disturbances" go- there actually could be *several* reasons for them.  Sensory overload and learning to cope with it the best they can, can present as "disruptive" mannerisms or behaviors.  Also- it is INCREDIBLY common for Auties to have imaginary friends. 
Is she or her family comfortable with people being free to say "Oh, you mean ____? She is one of our church family here.  She is Autistic" if a visitor to the church asked or mentioned her behavior?  Once people have an explanation it often puts them at immediate ease.  
Another interesting story from our family- Our son had a particularly rough day one Sunday.  He was doing alright until I needed to leave.  (Health issues, semi emergency bathroom run.) While I was in the bathroom I heard a decent commotion.  JD kept preaching like nothing happened and one of the big brothers brought R my way.  After the service, I found out what happened and JD apologized to the couple that were the unfortunate recipients to the disruption. (thankfully, disruptions of that nature are quite infrequent-though they do happen once in a while.) It was the VERY first time they had ever been to our service.  The couple said essentially "Oh don't worry about it.  We understand that kids are still learning. No harm done."  When he mentioned casually that R is Autistic the couple started smiling and you could see them just totally relax.  Come to find out their daughter is Autistic and they left church after church that treated her badly and were unwelcoming to their family.  She is now an adult and wants nothing to do with God or the church. Her family is incredibly burdened for her.  That story is, unfortunately, not an uncommon story when you are in disability circles.  

josh p's picture

This could be one area where an integrated model has advantages. I have mentioned here before that my kids and I attend a family integrated church and, while I don’t necessarily agree with all the arguments for it, I like it. There is a family with 2 Downs kids and they are a little noisy but after a couple of weeks I stopped hearing them. My son has very high functioning Autism. He is self conscious about it so he stifles almost all of his habits during the service. Even if he didn’t I think he would be accepted. In my opinion I wouldn’t put too much thought into what visitors might be thinking. That to me is a separate issue.