In our current blog series we’ve looked at some of the common characteristics of kids with Asperger’s Disorder, outlined impediments they face to spiritual growth and obstacles families of kids with Asperger’s face when attempting to “do church.” Today, we’ll get very practical and examine some helpful hints for church staff and volunteers involved in serving kids with Asperger’s.
1. Consider the impact of sensory stimulation in your ministry environments. We’ve discussed some of the challenges faced by kids with Asperger’s resulting from differences in how they process sensory information. They’re more likely to have a successful church experience in sensory-friendly ministry environments. Using lower-watt light bulbs in your children’s areas, lowering the volume of music during large group worship, utilizing slightly less vibrant color schemes and establishing a special entrance and/or drop-off point for kids with Asperger’s or other sensory issues are all potentially helpful strategies. Here’s a post on ministry environments Harmony Hensley shared as part of our ADHD series in 2010 that’s also applicable to kids with Asperger’s
2. Inclusion is not an “all-or nothing” proposition. Partial inclusion may be an option. Some kids with Asperger’s might do fine with every aspect of your children’s programming except for large group worship. There’s nothing wrong with them attending the beginning of the adult worship service, watching a video, serving in some other place in the church or practicing other spiritual disciplines during that time. Teens might come to large-group adult worship but feel uncomfortable doing a house group. That’s OK. What’s important is that your church establishes a relationship with the child with Asperger’s and their parents that can be used to cast influence in the months and years ahead.
3. Consider creating service opportunities for kids with Asperger’s alongside adults in your church. Parents of many of my kids with Asperger’s have observed that their children relate better to adults than with their peers, because adults tend to be more tolerant of personality quirks or subtle differences in social development. Providing kids with Asperger’s opportunities to serve with adults helps them grow in confidence by tapping into their gifts and abilities, promotes the development of spiritual friendships and helps them to internalize an understanding that they have a valuable role to play in the body of Christ.
4. Offer kids with Asperger’s the opportunity to rehearse new experiences and activities. Kids with Asperger’s are more likely to be successful in a new situation when they have a clear understanding of what will be expected of them and the opportunity to practice/rehearse the social skills they’ll need to be successful. This principle would apply to small groups or house groups, retreats and mission trips. Sharing lots of video or pictures of where they will be, the activities they’ll participate in and providing opportunities to role-play interactions they’ll have to navigate with trusted adults can help to ease feelings of anxiety in kids with Asperger’s prior to a new experience and enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome.
5. Promote disability awareness among kids served in your children’s/student ministry. I understand that children’s and youth ministry leaders have a tremendous amount of content to cover and relatively little time with their students to cast influence, but the treatment kids with Asperger’s experience from their peers at church has a HUGE impact upon the likelihood that they’ll continue to attend church as teens or adults. Kids with Asperger’s are generally more sensitive to teasing/bullying from peers…they tend to perseverate on negative experiences and have a very difficult time letting go of past hurts. Creating ministry environments in which all kids feel valued and welcome is not only Biblical…it’s a whole lot easier than trying to undo the damage that can follow a hurtful experience at church.
Next: Strategies For Promoting Spiritual Growth in Kids With Asperger’s
Our Key Ministry team has two exciting training opportunities in April for our friends from around the U.S. Harmony Hensley will be presenting on the topic: Under Construction: Building an Inclusion Ministry at the McLean Bible Church Accessibility Summit in McLean, VA on April 21-22. She’ll be joined there by guest bloggers Aaron Scheffler of Mark 2 Ministries, Jolene Philo of Different Dream Parenting and Shannon Dingle of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Registration info is available here. Katie, Rebecca and Harmony will be offering a free, day-long JAM (Jumpstart All-Inclusive Ministry) Session at Two Rivers Church in Knoxville, TN on Saturday, April 28th. Click here for registration info.