About one in 54 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, as of 2020. One in 54 families is living with and loving someone who has ASD. One in 54 parents is trying to figure out how to keep their child with ASD safe and also successful, however they define success. One in 54 kids has tried—and often failed—to attend a ministry program because of sensory overload issues. One in 54 moms has put her head down in defeat and cried in the dark night over a behavior that her loved one exhibits.
“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder,” according to the Autism Speaks website, “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. The term ‘ the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.”
Think about your church family. Statistically speaking, at least one or more families in your church have a member with ASD. You most likely won’t see these families all together at the same time at church. They have probably worked out a system where the mom comes one week, and the dad comes the next week, because someone stay home with their child who has ASD. The mom probably doesn’t come to many church events or study groups, because her world is governed by a routine to support her child. She declines invitations to go out because a disruption to her child’s routine can be emotionally catastrophic.
Read Mark 2:1-5 or the parallel story in Luke 5:17-26.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus ministers to a special-needs person—a paralytic. The paralytic was unable to come to Jesus on his own, so his friends stepped in and brought him to Jesus. The friends had a routine—odds are this wasn’t the first time they had taken their friend somewhere. The friends probably had to take care of the paralytic’s practical needs while they journeyed. And the paralytic’s spiritual needs were as important to them as his practical needs. Today’s special-needs families need friends like this to come alongside them in their lifelong, often lonely, journey of raising someone with ASD.
In this unit, we will look closer at how the four friends helped the paralytic, drawing parallels between what they did for the paralytic and what today’s church can do for special-needs families:
- What they did to help their friend practically
- What they did to help their friend spiritually
- What they did to help their friend communally
About the Author
SARAH SIMMONS is a writer living in Springfield, Missouri. She is Mom to Z, 14, and G, 12. Her son Z has ASD. He was diagnosed when he was 3 years old. Sarah and her husband, Lane, attend James River Church in Ozark, Missouri, where they are involved in volunteer ministries.
An Autism Post is author Sarah Simmons’ Facebook page where she posts thoughts about her son Z’s daily activities, sometimes includingvideo. https://www.facebook.com/anautismpost/. You can also read more of Sarah’s thoughts in this interview article on AG News.
is an AG World Missions ministry. Thomas and Angelia Carpenter lead the disability arm of . Their heart is to come alongside world missionaries and their families where a disability is present, to encourage and resource them. E-mail Angelia at email@example.com or visit their website at www.compassionlink.org.
Kim, Diane Dokko is an author and ASD mom who authored the book Unbroken Faith: Spiritual Recovery for the Special-Needs Parent (Worthy Publishing, 2018). Her website is https://www.dianedokkokim.com. Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/DianeDokkoKim/.
At Key Ministry, http://www.keyministry.org, they work with churches to figure out the best way to work with families with children with ASD in a church environment. Sandra Peoples is on staff with this ministry.
Nathaniel’s Hope (https://www.nathanielshope.org).Shares a wealth of information and resources for churches, families, and caregivers. Includes some training opportunities and links to more information.
Newman, Barbara J. Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011).
For those looking for information on what it’s like to live with ASD, Facebook page is a wonderful place to start https://www.facebook.com/rhemashope/. Rhema is a young lady with ASD who is mostly nonverbal. She started communicating by using a stencil board. She now regularly writes on her Facebook page, which was previously where her mother would write about their experiences.
Sandra Peoples is a minister, author, and an ASD mom who understands church ministries and disabilities. Her website is http://www.sandrapeoples.com. Sandra also communicates through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sandra.peoples.author/.
Special Touch Ministries (http://www.specialtouch.org) is a non-profit faith-based organization, interdenominational in scope, committed to serving people with intellectual or physical disabilities, their families, and caregivers. They have a program for certifying churches for disability ministry here: http://www.specialtouch.org/dfcinfo.
Temple Grandin is an ASD woman who is an expert in her chosen field of animal behaviors. She has written many books about what life is like for those with ASD. Her book Thinking in incredible insight into the minds of those with ASD. A movie has been made of her life called “Temple Grandin.” It stars Claire Danes.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society®.
“Ministering to Families of Children with Autism” is published by National Women’s Ministries at women.ag.org, 2020. Permission granted for personal use or within a teaching setting. Do not reproduce.