I have a friend who has been a constant voice in my life, never being deterred by my unique circumstance as I care for a child with autism.
My son and I recently had the honor finally to attend a local women’s Bible study group to which she had invited us. No matter how many times I have had to cancel on her or just flat-out turn her down, she has never given up on us.
Anytime we encounter a new opportunity, I have to carefully determine if it will be a good fit for my 5-year-old son that doesn’t cause him anxiety from being stretched outside his comfort zone too far, too fast.
This was the case with this women’s Bible study group. Of course I wanted to go every time we were invited and, all the more, I wanted my son to have a chance to be a part of the children’s class there that would enrich his life through God’s Word – a class led by women willing to come alongside us and help him succeed in spite of the often unfamiliar territory of the autism spectrum.
That same evening, I was at our home church for the Wednesday night service. Our church offers a Mission Friends class during adult Bible study so both children and parents have the chance for fellowship, ministry and learning. Again, this has not always worked well with my son’s schedule and ability, so we haven’t always been able to show up.
Now that he is older and his schedule has changed, the teachers welcome him as though he has been there for every class. Some of the same boys in his Sunday School class are a part of Mission Friends. They have never treated him any differently. In fact, the teacher sent me a photo of my son and her little boy embraced in a side-hug with smiles across their cheeks.
These are snapshots of our lives that form a bigger picture of the simple act of inclusion.
Here are a few ways the local church can begin to minister to special needs families in their own communities:
1. Start with an attitude of inclusion.
Many families often feel isolated because they think the church doesn’t understand or care. Families who are just receiving a diagnosis will need emotional support that begins when we take time to understand that children with disabilities may be different, but they are not any less. We can take a quick look at scripture and be led by the example Jesus set when He went out of His way to care for those who had been ostracized from their communities. He had a heart for inclusion.
2. Talk to the special needs families.
In my own walk with a child with autism, I have gained the best advice from those adults who have autism themselves. It’s priceless firsthand information that helps me weigh the right decisions to make for my son. Most of the time there are at least two good options, but one is usually better than the other.
Ask the parents of children with special needs what would help them. Don’t just assume that what one church is doing will work for your church. The landscape of those with special needs may be entirely different in your church.
You may be tempted to think that some may expect special treatment in these circumstances. For our family, we are grateful for any help we receive that allows our entire family unit to make it to church. Most of the time it didn’t cost the church much in terms of funds or resources.
3. Members want to serve special needs families.
In our church, there were already families with a heart to care for those parents, siblings and children with special needs. Once we received our son’s autism diagnosis, they were given the chance to make a difference within the church walls.
Because of the strong biblical influence set forth in the New Testament, you can be sure God has already made a way for you to easily talk to people in your church about serving this unreached people group.