One of the biggest obstacles for churches in becoming more inclusive of autistic individuals is the fear of not having enough resources, which I addressed in an earlier essay. What if I told you that fear was misplaced? What if I told you that for as little as $20, your church could work to become more inclusive?
While money, or the fear of not having enough money, hinders some churches from working towards inclusion, the actual noise in a sanctuary or worship center can be as much if not more of an obstacle for someone on the spectrum from being able to worship.
Take a moment to think about what sounds we often hear during a typical Sunday or worship moment? Perhaps you hear the sounds of an organ playing a hymn. Maybe there is a praise band with drums, pianos, and guitars rehearsing for the contemporary worship service. Perhaps you hear the conversations in the pews about where people are going for lunch. Of course, the preacher is speaking on today’s Scripture about how to connect with God.
All that and more happens on a typical day of worship. That is a lot for anyone to process. It is even more so for someone who struggles to adjust to several sensory inputs at one time. This experience can be overwhelming for someone on the spectrum and their families. It can contribute to outbursts and emotional stress.
For at little as $20, a church can make an investment in having things on campus that can help a child or adult on the spectrum adjust to the noise level. Noise-reducing headphones can be a life-changing reality for individuals on the spectrum, and having them on-site can be a blessing for both the family and the church.
These headphones, which we wear when we work on heavy machinery, can help the individual on the spectrum focus on worship (or other activities). While not a magic fix – the individual may still be overwhelmed by the noise in the room – it can be a way to help ease and soothe the sensations of the noise and sensory inputs, so the individual is not experiencing pain simply by being in worship.
I recommend buying someone from a reputable company (3M is what we use for our son) with a 32db capability. I would also look at something with adjustable straps. While there are noise-protecting earbuds, this could cause an issue for a church due to sanitation needs. A church can have them available at a welcome desk for people to pick, if needed, such as it typically does with listening devices.
Simply having headphones on site can be a big win for the church and the community. It can send a signal of understanding and a willingness to adapt to meet the needs of a marginalized group of people.