Thursday, September 03, 2009

Clinic Notes: Church and Autism

Many parents who bring their children with autism to my clinic complain that their child does not do well in church. Children with autism who have sensory issues may not do well in church because of the noise and the crowd. But at the same time these children, and adults with autism and other disabilities want desperately to take part in church activities. But all too often they feel excluded. I live and practice in the Bible-Belt and attending church is an important issue for families. Having children with autism in church is also an important issue for the church, especially if the child with autism exhibits behavior such as talking non-stop, hand flapping, not staying seated, or engaging in other behaviors, which are disruptive. Many parents get the message, either implicitly or explicitly, that their child with autism is not welcomed in church. The family then becomes even more isolated from society. Not being welcomed at church runs counter to Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions where acceptance of everyone is a central tenet. As the number of children with autism increase, some in the religious community are reaching out with written guidelines to include people with disabilities in all church activities. And this is a good first step. I do know of churches, usually small churches, that have "learned" to not be bothered by the child with autism. But unfortunately this is rare. Hopefully, churches will become more "educated" and accepting of children with autism and other disabilities.

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