Four friends gathered together to help their special-needs friend. Not one. Not even two or three. It was four. No one person can parent an ASD child by herself. One friend couldn’t have carried the paralytic to Jesus in time. One friend would have failed. Power is found in community. Strength is found in community. Shared responsibilities are more easily fulfilled. When one friend had a tired right hand, he could switch with another friend on the left side and continue on. The four friends worked together with a purpose—to support their friend.
Most likely your church community already has existing ministries that could be used for families of people with ASD. Do you provide a meal delivery program for those who can’t leave their homes? Consider broadening the scope to include special-needs families. Do you provide a mom’s day out program? Consider adding someone who could function as a paraprofessional solely for a child with ASD. Could an area in your church be repurposed as a sensory overload room—a safe place for a child with ASD to go when he or she can’t process all that is going on in the service? Are there members of your congregation who work with special education classes who would volunteer on some Sundays to be with an ASD child so the parents can attend service together?
Bonus project: Many people with ASD struggle with haircuts. Quite often it is a fearful experience. They cannot process the sounds of clippers or the scissors right next to their ears and eyes. Children with ASD have meltdowns triggered by just going to the hair salon. If a church could open their facilities to special-needs families, so that they could have a haircut without all the pressure of going to a salon, it would be a huge blessing to those families. If it could become a quarterly event—because hair doesn’t stop growing!—that would be an even bigger blessing. The church would need to find a few stylists who would be comfortable working with non-typical children—a few calls to local kids’ salons would probably unearth some contacts, or to the local elementary school special education coordinator. Many families just want their child to look presentable—no worries about the latest, coolest haircut. A stylist who could trim up their child’s hair without all the pressure of a salon visit would be a miracle to many families—an easy way to be Jesus in their life!
If you want to impact a special-needs family, perform a series of continual acts of benevolence rather than one big benevolent event. These families are going to be special needs for the rest of their lives. Their children will probably never reach a point where they are not actively parenting them. There will not be a “leaving the nest” moment. If you can be there for them regularly, woven into the fabric of their lives, you will have the most impact. If every Thursday night, a different person supplies dinner for the family, then you have helped to create a respite space for that family. If once a quarter, you can gather together and do a small “honey do” project for that family, then you will help to create a home environment for that family to succeed.
Scripture to ponder: The first-century church was a community church. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32, NIV). They shared their abilities and their resources.
Consider a ministry that you are involved in at your church. How could you expand it to allow the family of someone with ASD to be involved?
One in 54 families in the United States is figuring out how to walk the ASD journey. They are a large people group, mostly unreached. Many of them can’t attend church together as a family. They don’t want to disrupt the worship service. And yet they need fellowship, community, and prayer time. They are an unreached people group right here beside you. They need the support of a loving community. They need to know that their efforts are not in vain. They are overwhelmed by the daily challenges life throws at them.
Jesus himself talked about the implications of reaching out and helping those who need it in Matthew 25:34-46. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40, NIV).
Just as the four friends took the paralytic man to Jesus, you too can take these families to Jesus. You can reach out to them, be involved in their lives, support them through prayer, and offer them every day helps. The key is to do it together, as a church community.
The four friends worked together. They did not go alone. They used their resources and expanded what they could do for their paralytic friend. They respected him. They took him to Jesus when he couldn’t get there himself.
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.