Question:

Okay, so I have been wondering about this for a while. Our beautiful son, who is two years old, has autism. What we have been doing during worship for a year now is keeping him up late on Saturday night so he will sleep in the "nursing room" most of the morning at worship, so he's not disturbing the service and so that my husband and I can worship. It's a small building, so I can hear him if he cries or wakes up -- he's literally in the next room but because of his sensory problems he can't sit still or be quiet even if disciplined, which his therapist does not want us to really do. But I know we can't keep doing this forever. He is going to grow older.

We have tried using our iPad during service so he can watch a movie to keep him stimulated, but, of course, he gets upset because it's muted and it's also a distraction to other people and their children.

I never not want be able to go to worship because of his condition, but I just don't know what to do. When he is awake it's hard, and I myself or my husband end up having to walk out the room with him and miss some or a lot of the service. The older he gets, the harder it is. I refuse to put him on drugs to make him a zombie, so that's out of the question. He also has very poor motor skills so he can't color or draw.

Have you ever had anyone with a situation like ours in your congregation before or know of anyone? I know children are supposed to worship with the parents and the other Christians. This whole thing really breaks my heart. And I'm not sure how the brethren really feel about it. Sometimes I feel like they are embarrassed, but I can't say that for sure. They have been real sports about it so far to our faces.

I would like to add that I am in no way ashamed of my son. I just don't want to disturb worship and prayer and I would love to hear more of the sermons, etc. It's okay if you can't give us any advice. I know this is not very common, although I do know that is starting to become more and more common with 1 in every 45 boys these days have autism and that number increases every year.

Thank you, God bless.


Answer:

I've asked several friends who have dealt with autism and related disorders in their family to reply.

My name is Whit Sasser, a gospel preacher in Appleton, Wisconsin. I, too, have a son with autism. Jeff Hamilton forwarded me your questions about autism and church services and asked if I would respond, something I am glad to do.

My son is 19 years old and is high functioning autistic. As you probably know, there are differing degrees of autism and my son was never a problem to deal with in church services anymore than it was dealing with all of my seven children. But we have a number of people in our congregation who have children with more difficult degrees of autism, so that I see up close the challenge it can be.

First of all, congregations should be as sympathetic as possible. As the prevalence of autism and other neurological disorders increases, the understanding of others will likewise need to be heightened. So, I trust church members will show the love of Christ and be understanding of the difficulties you are having.

Second, as your child grows, as much as possible, you will do well to expect of him the same you would of someone his age without autism. Babying him will not help in the long run. So keep expectations typical for his age, including how to be quietly occupied in a church service.

In a very severe case, one in which disturbances are beyond reasonable, then special arrangements will have to be made. But this is true of a lot of handicaps, not just autism. Those special arrangements may vary from place to place and time to time, so I will not promote any specific one, but this is done for the elderly, the handicapped, and maybe also those who think autistically.

Feel free to question me further.

Go well.

Whit