April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism Awareness Month. But why should the church care about autism awareness? Shouldn’t we just leave autism awareness to secular social programs? I would like to suggest that the church needs to be interested in autism awareness from both a biblical and practical perspective.
Obviously the Bible does not mention autism by name. The term “autism” was first used in 1911 and then it was referring more to schizophrenia. It was in the 1940s that “autism” was first used to describe what we consider to be the disorder today.
While the Bible does not speak of autism specifically, it does talk about disabilities. Leviticus 19:14 says, “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.” This is a warning not to create additional challenges for people with disabilities. Tolerating ignorance is a way of putting a stumbling block in the way of people with disabilities.
While there are many other passages that deal with disabilities, there is a wider principle that is very applicable. Throughout the Old Testament, there are commands to care for the “widows and orphans.” This is understood to not be just about those who literally fit in those specific categories but as short hand for all who are marginalized and are in need. This would include those with disabilities.
In the New Testament, we find the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, judgment is based on the treatment of the marginalized, including the sick, imprisoned, poor and naked. Not only that, Jesus identifies with “one of the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). It is not much of a stretch to include people with disabilities in this category.
Assuming that there is a biblical basis for caring for those with disabilities, including spreading autism awareness, why should the church act on this? Being biblical should be enough but there are some practical benefits.
The CDC has recently estimated that 1 in 68 children are born with some form of autism. This means that that there should be someone in most churches with autism. Even if there is no one with autism, there is likely multiple people in even the smallest congregations who have family or friends affected by autism.
Taking two minutes in one service during the month of April to mention autism and to pray for families can have a significant impact. Autism families often feel isolated and even the smallest effort by a church can be an encouragement. Demonstrating compassion in this one area may make more of a difference that you can imagine.
I have updated my autism awareness bulletin insert and you can download it here.