How James’s Autism Changed Everything—Including Our Church

I am very excited about being featured at Christianity Today’s women’s site, her.meneutics sharing about how James’s autism diagnosis changed everything, including our church.

Here’s an excerpt:

We now see the special needs community as an unreached people group. Too many of these families have been hurt by churches that turned them away either by their actions (or inaction), or by telling them they aren’t welcomed. Some of us may imagine it impossible for a congregation to reject any members—much less those with special needs—but it happens in routine ways.

When a child’s age doesn’t match his developmental stage, Sunday school teachers struggle to situate him in a classroom and may conclude he doesn’t fit. Is there no place for an eight year old who can’t sit still to color pictures like his peers? A mom may have to opt one of her children out of Vacation Bible School because of his severe food allergies. When she asks about changing the snacks, the response seems callous: “We always have Goldfish crackers. The other kids would be so disappointed if we didn’t have them this year.”

The sense of unwelcome can extend into the sanctuary, as well. When a preteen with sensory sensitivity gets overwhelmed by the lights, sounds, and smells of worship, a deacon’s initial reaction may be to request she and her family leave to preserve the sanctity of the service, rather than give her some time to adjust. When adult with developmental disabilities dances and claps along with the music, she may be allowed to stay, but still gets stares and dirty looks from those around her.

I’ve heard enough stories like these, and worse, to know it’s not just fear of exclusion that keeps special needs families away. Whether it comes from the mouth of ministry leaders or just through the glares and huffs from church members, many families get the sense that they don’t belong.

What made our positive experience so different from the stories I’ve heard from others?

Read more at her.meneutics … 

More posts on special-needs ministry:

4 thoughts on “How James’s Autism Changed Everything—Including Our Church

  1. If you are searching for additional churches to add to the list for families that are searching for a welcoming church home, please check out our Haven Ministry at Damascus Road Community Church in Mt. Airy Maryland! This ministry has been growing since before I joined the church 13 years ago! The church website is We also host a completely free Good News Event the first Sunday of May at the Mt. Airy Carnival grounds every year (rain or shine) to celebrate those with special needs. Everyone is invited and it’s a great low key, with tons of fun, way to get to know us. I don’t know where in PA you are, but if you are close enough to MD, please bring all your family, church too, to the Good News Event! I know you have been and will continue to be blessed by your ministry!

  2. Sandra: I have a 14 year old with Autism and own a bilingual monthly publication in Northwest Florida. I was planning to publish an Autism article in the front page for April. May I have your permission to consider reprinting the one that Christianity Today published? I may try to publish in english and spanish. Pls respond via phone or email. 850.368.3505. My publication is called Conexión. Website:

    • David, I think Christianity Today has to give permission since it’s published on their site.

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