Good Finds! Autism and Your Church (Book)
Many churches recognize the need to do a better job of welcoming kids with differences. But oftentimes those same faith communities feel lost, unsure where to find useful information to equip the ministry volunteers and leaders. While there is an abundance of information available on various topics related to disability inclusion, it can be challenging to figure out what guidance does and does not translate well in the church setting. As a researcher and writer focused on this topic, one of my goals is to sift through the avalanche of special needs-related information and then repackage the relevant ideas and practices for church leaders.
The wonderful thing about the 2011 edition of Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder is that is it written precisely for servants and leaders inside a church. It is a concise yet comprehensive manual that requires no translation for the big-hearted lay person called to help in a church’s special needs ministry. A volunteer training session could be developed around the content of the book. I have had the pleasure of hearing the book’s author, Barbara Newman, speak several times. As I read through the book I could hear her gentle tone as she paints effective word pictures for a lay person, like myself, who has no credentials in the area of special education. (Personal Note: Barb is one of the most gifted communicators I have ever heard!)
Below is breakdown and brief description for each section of the book:
Introduction – This overview provides a number of valuable pointers for a church team that wants to more effectively minister to and with individuals impacted by autism. This section could be especially useful for developing opening words at a volunteer equipping event for the children’s ministry and/or special needs ministry teams.
Section 1: God’s Handiwork – The framework for the book and for how to view disability inclusion is established. Again, wonderful ideas and analogies are provided to help every lay leader inside the ministry.
Section 2: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – The definition, explanation, and examples offered in this eight-page section of the book are worth the purchase price alone. I have learned (the hard way) that trying to provide a definition of autism can be received offensively without a careful choice of words. Barb does a beautiful job of respectfully and candidly explaining the ASD diagnosis in laymen’s terms. Barb also weaves in stories of how differences attributable to ASD may show up in the church setting.
Section 3: Ten Strategies for Including Individuals with ASD – This 50-page section of the book is the meat of the resource. Every page is packed with information valuable to lay leaders and staff members called to help anyone with autism (or any learning difference!) spiritually advance.
Some pointers in this section are general, such as suggestions for word choices in ministry literature (e.g. use the word “survey” to name the document used to solicit valuable information from parents about their child and their specific needs.) Other ideas apply directly to the ministry environment and can help both the individual and the leader-volunteer experience success. In this section Barb tackles issues such as:
- disclosure vs. privacy
- adjusting an environment to match an individual’s sensory needs
- understanding the sometimes unconventional communication of a person with ASD
- the value of preparing an individual for change and establishing routine (schedules)
- using varying types and means for communication
- ideas for how to compose information stories to prepare an individual for a new social situation
Section 4: Behavior Management: Including Individuals with Difficult Behaviors – Most likely every church in America could benefit from the ideas offered in this short but power-packed section. So many of the suggestions can apply to children of all abilities but whom may have a variety of needs and life issues.
Section 5: An Action Plan – A step-by-step list is offered for a church in the early stages of developing or growing a special needs ministry.
Reproducible Resources – 17 forms and documents are provided where a church could copy or modify any of these valuable documents for their own ministry. Included in this section are participant questionnaires, informational stories/narratives, permission – authorization documents, and an sample explanatory letter to typical families.
Recommended Resources – Eight organizations are named and described that offer different products or services from which a church could benefit.
My concluding thoughts: This book is a wonderful, practical resource for every church. This 125-page “manual” is an easy read and provides a great reference tool for special needs and children’s ministry leaders. The content of the book was developed to support both children and adults with ASD. Also, it is a great credit to both the author and the publisher that the resource translates well across many denominations, theological persuasions, and faith leanings. The book is full of concrete, easy ideas that can be implemented immediately in ministry environments everywhere. If I were leading a church’s special needs ministry, I would provide key ministry servants a copy of this book. No, I am not paid for this review or endorsement.
Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Barbara J. Newman (Friendship Ministries, 2011) may be purchased through Friendship Ministries.
~ Amy Fenton Lee