5 Things to Know about the Mother of a Child with Autism – Part 3
This post is the third in a 5-part series in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. The series introduction is included in the first post, Part 1. To see previous posts in this series, see:
Part 3: She fears exclusion.
Few things feel as threatening to a mother as does something that jeopardizes others’ love for and acceptance of her child. The autism diagnosis is that big, bad label that justifiably feeds a mother’s greatest fears for her son or daughter.
- Will he sit alone at the lunch table for the rest of his school career?
- Will she ever be invited to a birthday party?
- Will he be the easy target of a neighborhood or school bully?
- Will teachers resent her for the extra work her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) creates for them?
Unfortunately exclusion of the individual with special needs can even occur within the family. Perhaps another family member has not fully embraced the diagnosis for their son, daughter, or grandchild. If that parent or grandparent has reconciled themselves to their child’s realities, they may struggle to view the child has having the same value and worth as the siblings without a disability. As a result, it is not uncommon for a mother to lack full family support as she travels on her child’s path to diagnosis and accommodation.
When children’s ministry teams understand this fear of exclusion, they can better understand why so many parents choose not to reveal their child’s diagnosis to the church.* While some parents worry that the church may refuse care for their child, oftentimes the fear of peer rejection is an even greater deterrent to disclosure. In fact parents sometimes turn down the opportunity for the church to provide a one-on-one shadow if they perceive that this will impact invitations for shared play dates, children’s birthday parties, or parent social events. This is be especially true inside churches where cliques have emerged among the children or the adults.
Ultimately, helping families impacted by autism to feel valued and included can be achieved through intentional leadership on the part of the children’s ministry team. By identifying and engaging key influencers in the ministry (respected volunteers, prominent typical parents), ownership and mindshare can be created to promote special needs acceptance and inclusion. This may require addressing the issue of fear directly with these ministry partners and encouraging them to connect one-on-one with families affected special needs.
Want to create an atmosphere of acceptance inside the church?
- Arrange for a pediatric therapist or special needs professional to speak to a Moms-n-More or parent-education event. Ask the speaker to address developmental milestones for all children while providing autism education.
- Recruit parents of typical children and children with special needs to serve alongside each other on a children’s ministry advisory team. Facilitate interaction between these families. Create shared ownership for a greater focus on disability inclusion.
- Partner with the church’s Stephen Ministry and create opportunities for Stephen Ministers to serve families affected by special needs.
- Celebrate autism awareness month. Post a bulletin board providing tips for relating to a child with autism. With permission, feature an affected child’s story from the church.
- Invite parents of children with a disability to share their family’s story in various congregational settings.
- Encourage children’s ministry leaders to wear official autism awareness jewelry, lapel pins and lanyard ribbons. Order through www.supportstore.com or www.autismlink.com. Look for opportunities to show visible support.
- Plug in children with autism into visible places in the children’s ministry. Assign a child with an ASD a memorized line in a skit, the job of carrying the flag during VBS assembly, or the task of updating a church bulletin board.
- Allow secular autism networking groups to utilize the church facilities.
*When parents don’t empower a children’s ministry team with information to successfully care for their child, everyone loses…including the next family impacted by special needs. As a longtime children’s ministry volunteer, I believe parents owe some information to those who care for their child. Parents have an obligation to share knowledge about their child when that information could significantly benefit or protect any other ministry participant (volunteers, church staff, other students, and the child themselves). While it may require tremendous vulnerability to candidly share about a child’s specific challenges or coping strategies, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the risks.
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Some of the content in this post and the rest of this series are protected by copyright. Thank you! – Amy Fenton Lee