Strategies For Promoting Spiritual Growth in Kids With Asperger’s Disorder

We’ve spent a considerable length of time in this series on Asperger’s Disorder and spiritual development on the challenges kids with the condition and their families face in “doing church.” Today, we’ll look at potential strategies for promoting spiritual growth in kids with Asperger’s and speculate about ways in which the condition might provide advantages to a Christ-follower.

If a parent of one of my patients with Asperger’s were to ask me about what they could do to promote their child’s faith development, aside from the activities that influence spiritual growth among kids in general, some of the ideas I’d share would include:

Helping your child to identify spiritual pathways that fit with their gifts, passions and the way in which their brain has been wired. There are multiple spiritual pathways in addition to the relational path…intellectual, activist, servant, contemplative, worship and creation pathways all help people to grow closer to God. When kids with Asperger’s find their “sweet spot”…the place or activity in which they’re most aware of God’s presence and experience spiritual growth…they may pursue God with a single-minded intensity that’s more difficult for persons without Asperger’s to achieve.

Cultivating personal spiritual disciplines. Kids with Asperger’s are often creatures of habit…they do well with, and benefit from routines. They may be more likely to stick to a regular schedule of Bible study or family devotions. In fact, their need for routine may help their entire family to do a better job of sticking to a routine around family prayer and/or devotional times.

Find them a job in the church. As we’ve discussed earlier, many kids with Asperger’s will have an easier time relating to adults as opposed to their peers. Consistent with their age and maturity, providing kids with an opportunity to serve alongside adults helps reinforce the idea that they have gifts and talents of value in God’s kingdom, and encourages the development of Christian role models outside of the family capable of reinforcing and supporting parental influence as they advance through the teen years.

Using electronic media to promote spiritual growth. Many of my patients with Asperger’s seem to have a unique fascination with screens. There’s nothing wrong with using videos, games or apps to teach kids about Jesus if they’re most easily engaged through their electronic toys.

I’m convinced there’s an important role for online tools in reaching teens with Asperger’s and helping them to overcome their reticence to participate in youth ministry. In my experience, many kids with Asperger’s and other social disabilities are far more comfortable with electronic modes of communication. I’m hoping Key Ministry will identify churches to partner with for pilot projects during the coming 12-24 months to explore uses of online ministry for teens with Asperger’s. We’d be looking for churches with the capacity to stream their youth worship that would be interested in launching online small groups for kids with Asperger’s in their cities led by an experienced youth pastor or small group leader. An additional purpose of the online small groups (beyond their role in promoting spiritual growth) would be the promotion of a sense of trust enabling group participants to work toward the goals of meeting in person at a local church, joining in large group worship, and becoming involved in the full range of ministries offered by the local church.

Next: Tying it all together

Key Ministry (ably represented by Katie Wetherbee, Rebecca Hamilton and Harmony Hensley) 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. Stay tuned for registration info for a JAM Session in May in the Greater Cincinnati area!

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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