Hello, I’m Abbi Blosser (Shannon’s wife) and I’m guest-authoring today’s blog post on what an inclusive church looks like.
Before you ask, I’m not going to give you a list of items you have to have, or programs you need to do. Because the most important part of having an inclusive church is the attitude and heart of the people in the church. In the many churches we’ve been in, that has made the most difference in feeling accepted or not.
And I promise you, I can still remember the things people have said to me (or Shannon) about Noah that have wounded me deeply.
So here’s some things not to do, along with some ideas about what to do.
Assume you know what is best for a particular child/adult and their family. Each autistic person is different, and each family has different needs. One thing we’ve encountered as a family is people who think they know what is best for Noah (or us as a family) because of something they’ve seen (in movies or TV) or on the internet or because of their experience as someone who worked children or autistic individuals.
Involve us in the discussion and decision-making process when making adaptations for Noah or others. What works for one person may not be good for another. There have been times when people assume Noah won’t enjoy something or that he needs extra adaptations when he actually doesn’t. Let him, and us as his parents, communicate what he actually can manage.
Act like making adaptations for Noah or other autistic people are a burden or as though it takes something away from typical kids.
Teach your kids and grandkids that God welcomes all children into his presence. You’d be surprised at how flexible and understanding kids can be when they’re taught that love and kindness are important. As adults, we demonstrate to the kids in our church and our lives how to be accepting and loving.
And DO answer their questions! We don’t have any problems helping kids understand what autistic means and how Noah may need some extra quiet space or headphones. Autism (or any other disability) is not a shameful thing.
Understand that autistic overload or burnout is a legitimate reason to need to stay home and watch church online. Accept that Noah, and other kids, may need to move more, play with fidgets, lie down in the pew, or even leave the sanctuary for a short time in order to deal with the overwhelming sounds and happenings in church. Embrace autistic individuals and their families.
There’s so many tools and various ways to adapt for children (and adults) like Noah. But being an inclusive church starts with the heart.
Matthew 19:13-15 says, “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.”
Jesus wants the children to come to him. He wants them to be part of the Kingdom. Not just the quiet children. Not just the children who can hold still in church. Not just the children who “fit it.”
All the children.
Let them come to Jesus.