Supporting the Differently-Abled Part 1
It is the church's call to reach out to all people; Mark 16:15, He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."
April is Autism Awareness Month or as my youngest and a large majority of the Autism community prefers, Autism Acceptance Month.
This includes people whose minds and bodies develop differently than the "average" person. It is important that in our reaching out we support the whole person and try not to enforce our standards from a nonbiblical standpoint on our differently-abled.
Today I will give a small education on the Autism Spectrum and a few ideas for how the church can reach out to this unique population of the world. Next week we will talk about supporting those differently-abled in the realm of mental health.
Every person is unique. Everyone, Autistic or not, is different from each other which means what reaches one person isn't guaranteed to be the same for another. Autism shows itself in a myriad of ways and on different levels for each individual, which is why it is called a spectrum.
While many people on the spectrum struggle with traditional learning styles, many still excel in their chosen careers. People on the Autism spectrum tend to have issues with social interactions but what those issues are is varied. Some struggle with physical contact or eye contact, while others have trouble understanding social cues such as emotions, metaphors, and body language. Others have issues with sensory overload which can make church events, especially those catered towards younger people difficult to attend. Sensory issues are not unique to autism and we will talk more about them next week.
As a church body, it is imperative that we take notice of things that our friends on the Autism Spectrum have trouble with and help how we can. If you notice they really don't like physical contact in the form of hugs but your pastor has a meet and greet section to the service see if a high five or a secret handshake would be more comfortable. If even a high five is too much physical contact don't force it on them and try standing at the edge of their personal space and giving them a big smile and a wave. The bible doesn't say we have to like physical contact to be a part of the church body so don't be offended and especially do not force them into a situation that would cause unnecessary stress.
No matter how you choose to reach out to the people on the Autism Spectrum DO NOT donate money or support Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks supports prenatal autistic testing that leads to the abortion of potentially autistic children. Autism Speaks has advocated for finding a "cure" which to most on the spectrum is not something they are even hoping for. Autistic Self Advocacy Network instead supports people on the spectrum by helping create support systems in their chosen careers or educational fields rather than trying to change the person. If you are looking for a place to help Autistic individuals financially consider the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) or speak with your local church to get involved/create a program reaching out to this people group.
In the words of ASAN "Acceptance is an Action" so find a way to reach out to the differently-abled in your community. Through prayer, advocacy, support, and action.