The CDC has reported that 1 in 68 children are born with autism. Your church needs decide if you want to include or exclude people with autism. Most churches take the steps to be accessible for physical disabilities with elevators and wheelchair ramps. What about those with disabilities such as autism?
Here are some practical tips on how your church can be more autism-friendly. Some of these tips are also helpful for those with mental illness.
- Do not over stimulate. Some churches like to replicate the concert experience in their worship, including bright and flashing lights. You don’t have to have autism to be overwhelmed with that. Consider how a person with sensory issues would react during worship.
- Consider an order of service. This does not need include every detail, but people with autism will appreciate knowing what happens and when.
- Don’t reinvent yourself every week. This does not mean there can be no flexibility. But having the same general order makes things much easier.
- Don’t use insider language. This is helpful even for people without autism. Insider language includes phrases that long-time members understand but new people don’t. This can feel exclusive for people with autism.
- Don’t force conversation. Be friendly, greet the person and even offer a handshake. But if the person seems withdrawn, don’t force yourself on them.
- Educate yourself. Take the time to learn about autism. Provide teaching for your leaders. Start this even before you have a family with autism at your church.
- Provide information on the website. Have a page on your church website that describes what to expect at a worship service. Don’t describe the church that you want to be but the church you really are.
It takes work to be an autism-friendly church, but it is worth it. For more information, check out my book, How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly.