Sunday is a traditional day of worship for followers of Christ. What does this day look like for our family? Today’s post will take you on a journey of our day simply to go to worship.
It begins at 5 a.m. I am a pastor, and this is when I wake up each Sunday morning to get ready for the day. Noah often hears me when I walk by his room to get breakfast. No matter what time in the morning it is, once Noah begins to stir he cannot go back to sleep.
Now my wife and Noah are all up with coffee pouring. I go upstairs to look over the sermon notes. Noah is downstairs eating breakfast and starting his day.
I am typically out of the house by 8 a.m. on Sunday. My wife is left to get two kids ready for worship. She also has to get herself ready and look over her notes for Sunday school. She teaches a class at our church. That is a lot of stress to begin the day, and Noah reacts to environmental stressors by getting loud or running all over the house. At times, he will respond with aggression if he is completely overwhelmed.
Once Noah awakes, we remind him that it is Sunday and what is on the calendar. This helps him process the day and mentally prepare for a day with heavy amounts of noise and sensory inputs. My wife will give him reminders throughout the day of what time they leave and when he needs to get ready. Again, this is to get him prepared for church.
My wife and children arrive at the church almost always late for the Sunday School she teaches. If she is too late, I will get a comment asking if she is coming or not while I am trying to prepare for the day. You want to say, “She is wrangling two kids, one who is already stressed out. She will be there when she can.” Instead, I typically respond, “I am sure she is on her way.”
Noah comes to church wearing his headphones. His headphones help to reduce the noise and sensory inputs that he receives. It helps him regulate himself in highly stressful moments for him.
She takes our kids to their Sunday School. My wife leaves them in the capable heads of our children’s team. There, Noah engages three other kids and has a change in environment from the classroom to the gym. The class often goes to the gym to run off energy after the lesson.
After this, it is time for church. My wife and kids sit in the back of the sanctuary alone. They sit there in case Noah needs to leave worship so as not to distract anyone. Noah might have his headphones off for a second but puts them on immediately after the organ plays. Noah is overwhelmed by the sound of the organ. He fidgets. He moves. He cannot sit still during this moment.
Sitting still for worship is an impossible task at this point. We’re just hoping to survive the day. At this point, we probably have not made it to the welcome and greeting part of worship.
It gets even worse once people start singing, especially if there is a high-pitched soloist.
Noah wants to go to the bathroom almost always by the first hymn. He doesn’t need to go. He has to find a quiet space.
By the time children’s moments starts, Noah is on edge and unable to focus. He will lean on me. He will flop over. His focus is limited.
Now, I am stressed. As I am delivering the children’s message, my mind begins to think, “Are people going to be upset at Noah? Do I need to focus on him? Is Abbi where I can see her, just in case?”
After children’s moments, he joins the other children for children’s church. It is my first stress-free moment in leading worship. I don’t have to think about what others might be thinking while leading worship. (This is a natural reaction for a parent with an autistic child in any situation.)
Following worship, I get a report about the kids from our nursery workers. They tell us how good Noah did, which doesn’t surprise me.
One, he is a great kid. Two, he puts a lot of energy into being good in worship or at school. This is because he has so often received negative attention from unsympathetic school officials and church members.
My wife and kids leave church almost immediately after worship. Noah only has one thing on his mind. That is French fries. It is comfort food, and after a stressful day, he needs comfort. So, we get lunch at McDonald’s or Wendy’s and go home.
For the next few hours, Noah is coming down from the stress of the day. He will be loud and on edge throughout the day. The smallest noise, negative reaction, or unexpected moment causes a stressful reaction on his part. He stays on edge, and the remainder of the day is a battle to survive various outbursts and reactions. This stays this way until close to his bedtime.
Our experience is different in that I have a role as the pastor of my church. Yet, what we experience on a typical Sunday is the equivalent to what many families with an autistic individual experience simply on Sunday mornings. We move from a posture of unwelcome to welcome when we have empathy for the experience of autistic individuals and their families.