The family of the paralytic man trusted the friends who helped him. His family wouldn’t have let him be carried off by four strangers! These friends had been to his home before. They had worked with him. They had probably transported him. They knew the pace to walk together, so they could give him a smoother ride. These friends knew when to stop and take care of his basic needs. If they had to walk with him for more than a few hours, the friends took a rest break to eat and take care of other necessary business. The paralytic had to trust his friends, or he would have never been able to get to Jesus. The friends earned the paralytic’s trust by their interaction in his routines.
Routine is king for many people with ASD. Routine is what provides their structure and their safety. Much about our world doesn’t make sense to someone with ASD—their brains cannot process all the information their senses are absorbing. But routines make sense. Driving the exact same route every day. Saying the exact same words before you start a process like taking a bath or getting dressed. Watching the same scene in a TV show 15 times in a row. Think of it as extreme routines
For special-needs families, one of the most important things we can do is to provide respite care in some way. Respite is a break from the extreme routine. Respite can look like someone coming to the family’s home to provide care while the main caregivers go away for a time. Or respite is someone coming to their home to help lighten the load while they are there—washing the dishes or doing laundry while the caregiver takes care of the child. It’s more than just babysitting. In order for someone to be a trusted caregiver for the family member with ASD, that person needs to become integrated into the family routine
For a family you would like to help, first find out what their routine is, then work with the family to become part of the routine. If they have a routine for coming to your church, find out what that is and integrate yourself into it. Do they park in the same spot every time? Do they stop and stare at the parking lot sign for 15 seconds each time? Do they walk the exact same route to the sanctuary or classroom? Learn the routine and become part of it. Just being present makes you a part of the routine. After a while, you can then provide the parent respite in that part of the routine. Once the person with ASD knows you and is familiar with you, then you can expand your role in his or her world and expand the respite you can give.
If you want to work with a special-needs family in their home, then you need to go to the home for a few times or more and let the person with ASD get used to the idea of you in their home. Just be there. Come in and do the same thing each time—come in and unpack a bag of groceries or vacuum the living room. After a while, you will become trusted in the home by the person with ASD.
Another issue for special-needs families is going places. Large grocery stores, while great for low prices, can be an absolute nightmare of sensory overload for people with ASD. One way to provide respite would be to volunteer to be the family’s personal shopper once a month. Get a list from them, then perform this service. Or if they have a store that they use that offers store pickup, come alongside them and help them set that up. Oftentimes, it’s hard for a mom to add something to her routine even if it is going to lighten the load. Her everyday life is so entrenched in supporting her child’s routines that she doesn’t have the energy to evaluate her systems to see what could be improved.
Scripture to Jesus said, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42, NIV). Giving a cup of cold water to a special-needs family would be giving them an emotional break from the constant, everyday stress that wears them down and breaks their soul.
Think about a time in your life when you were overwhelmed. What did someone do for you that lightened your load?
Quite often, people with ASD have communication limitations. They can’t tell you where something hurts or what just happened. What would you do in this kind of situation? How would you express yourself if you didn’t have the power of words? How would you feel if someone tried to integrate themselves into your regular routines? What would you like them to know before you were comfortable with them? What boundaries would you want them to respect?
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.