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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Churches and Autism

Tocqueville wrote that religion is the first of America's political institutions. He also said that Americans take on many public problems through voluntary associations. It is appropriate, then, to look at the role of U.S. churches in the autism issue. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports on a Michigan church that holds vacation Bible school for kids on the spectrum.
This year is the first time Southridge is holding a vacation Bible school specifically for children with autism, but it’s not the only church that’s had the idea.

Willoughby said she has talked to people from a church in Florida and a church in Colorado who were planning to do the same thing this summer. An Internet search revealed that churches in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Bloomington, Ill., also have held vacation Bible schools for autistic kids.

A 2008 report by Religion News Service writer Adelle M. Banks illuminated the broader issue of how congregations throughout the country are dealing with people of all ages with special needs. Her report indicated that Christian educators were seeing an increased interest in workshops, books and other materials that help them adapt their Sunday school classrooms for those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.

But it also revealed that some churches are deciding that worship services are not appropriate settings for some special-needs children. A Catholic church in Bertha, Minn., obtained a restraining order against a teenager accused of urinating on a pew and pushing a parishioner. The boy’s mother found a church in a neighboring town that the entire family can attend, Banks reported.

In Kalamazoo, North Presbyterian Church is known for welcoming those with mental illness and developmental disabilities, both in its worship services and through a social and recreational Togetherness Group, which received an award in 2003 from Community Advocates for Persons with Developmental Disabilities.

Other churches — including Third Christian Reformed, Westwood CRC, Haven Reformed, Second Reformed and Pine Island Presbyterian — offer Friendship Groups that pair individuals who have cognitive disabilities with volunteers for worship, socializing and activities. Friendship Ministries, based in Grand Rapids and in Burlington, Ont., provides resources for these groups in more than 60 Protestant denominations and some Catholic churches.
See also items by the Autism Society and Autism Speaks.