Asperger’s Disorder, Social Disabilities and Church

shutterstock_47556007Just as we finished up our series on diagnostic labels and church, the folks at the New York Times decided to throw out more grist for the mill with an op-ed piece in arguing that Asperger’s Disorder is over-diagnosed, in part because of education laws mandating enhanced services for children and youth diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders.

The argument put forth by the author of the commentary, Dr. Paul Steinberg (a psychiatrist) is that persons with social disabilities are profoundly different than those with what we classically define as autism in their capacity for language acquisition and development and suffer when lumped together in educational environments with other children with marked communication impairments. They shouldn’t require an autism diagnosis to access the treatment and support they need to increase their capacity for developmentally appropriate social interaction.

Here’s a question I’ll put on the table…How well do you think our churches do at serving kids and adults with normal to way above normal intelligence who also experience significant difficulties at picking up on appropriate social cues and are often oblivious to the reactions their behaviors evoke in others? How might a ten year old with a 145 IQ (genius level) react to being placed in a “special needs ministry” in which the majority of kids have developmental disabilities? How would a single adult who experiences marked discomfort upon entering unfamiliar places or meeting new people get connected with your church after accepting a job in your community?

Tying this back into our discussion on disabilities and labels, if we think about the kid with the 145 IQ and poor social skills as having “special needs” and try to put them into that “box” at church, they’ll likely have an uncomfortable or embarrassing experience that will linger in their mind for a very long time. If we don’t look beyond our narrow definition of “special needs” we’ll miss serving a lot of kids and adults who desperately need to experience the love of Jesus but flounder in church environments that put a huge premium upon social intelligence.

Updated February 7, 2014


Square Peg Round HoleKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource on the topic of Asperger’s Disorder and Spiritual Development. This page includes the blog series Dr. Grcevich and Mike Woods developed for Key Ministry, links to lots of helpful resources from other like-minded organizations, and Dr. Grcevich’s presentation on the topic from the 2012 Children’s Ministry Web Summit. Click here to access the page!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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1 Response to Asperger’s Disorder, Social Disabilities and Church


    Excellent, excellent points, Steve!!!


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