Last Sunday, we examined some of the challenges to spiritual growth kids with Asperger’s Disorder are likely to encounter. Today, we’ll focus our attention more specifically on barriers to inclusion of kids with Asperger’s at church.
In order to include kids with Asperger’s Disorder at church, we first have to get the parents to bring them to church. There’s not a lot of data at this point on the heritability of Asperger’s, but in my practice, a not insignificant percentage of my patients with Asperger’s have parents who appear to share some of the same characteristics, and as a result, parents most likely to have a child with Asperger’s may be underrepresented compared to other young adults in churches. We’ve discussed that kids with Asperger’s may have more difficulty managing transitions…parents of kids with any special need are more likely to be exhausted by the end of the week after dealing with daily struggles to get their child ready and out the door for school. Church can become one more task for parents who are already overwhelmed. Because of the social isolation that results from having a child with Asperger’s, parents are less likely to come in contact with other families who’ll invite them to church through sports and other types of extracurricular activities.
Church environments don’t necessarily play to the strengths of kids with Asperger’s Disorder. We’ve already discussed this point at some length with respect to sensory processing. Bright lights, loud noise, bustling environments with unfamiliar people…all present challenges for the child with Asperger’s that are greater than those faced by same-age peers.
The reality that kids with Asperger’s may be very precocious in some areas of development but significantly delayed in others complicates program placement at church. Many will be extremely resistant to placement in a “special needs ministry” or to interventions (such as having an assigned buddy) that result in the appearance that they’re somehow different from their peers. We have a saying…If you’ve seen one kid with Asperger’s, you’ve seen one kid with Asperger’s. I have a patient of elementary-school age right now with an IQ that’s probably in the 160-170 range (four or more standard deviations above normal…high end of genius range) who at the same time can be extremely immature socially. We’re starting to broach the subject of church with the family and thinking about the types of church activities in which he might be successful and specific churches willing to do a highly individualized program working with the family is challenging.
Their experience with “Christian” kids at school. There was an interesting study that came out last week showing that the majority of kids with Asperger’s are bullied at school, and that kids with Asperger’s are more than twice as likely to be bullied compared to kids with other autism spectrum diagnoses! If our churches are going to be successful at welcoming and including kids with Asperger’s, our kids have to behave differently than other kids at school and out in the “real world” than their peers who don’t attend church.
Next: Applying a family-based ministry model when kids have Asperger’s
Reminder…The Children’s Ministry Websummit continues through Friday, April 6. Click here for downloads of my lecture handout and FREE registration! My presentation is on the topic Square Pegs and Round Holes…Helping Kids With Asperger’s Disorder and Social Disabilities Grow Spiritually.