Many families and churches today are ministering to children on the autism spectrum. An experienced mom shares 6 ways to share Jesus with a child who has autism.
This past Sunday as the choir sang praises to God in a particularly upbeat song, I glanced over to my 20-year-old son, Sam, sitting near me. Immersed in worship, he held his hand high in praise of God as he sang the words. Thank you, Jesus, I thought, as I watched him move side to side, keeping his hand up. I reflected that his active worship is the mountaintop experience after a series of a lot of valleys and ravines.
In church, Sam was getting it: we’re here to learn about and worship Jesus, despite that Sam has autism. Diagnosed at age six, Sam’s schooling became one IEP meeting after another, filled with communications notebooks and emails between teachers and myself.
Does Jesus even desire to have people near Him who are disabled and may not be able to fully understand? Scripture states that Jesus was surrounded by large crowds, who “…brought blind people and those who could not walk. They also brought disabled people, those who could not speak, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them.” [Matthew 15:30]. So yes, absolutely – Jesus wants to have relationships with the disabled.
Here are six concrete ways to share Jesus with someone with autism. For someone with intellectual disabilities, God can be abstract – but still, very real indeed.
6 Ways to Share Jesus with a Child Who Has Autism
Know the Word
You cannot share the Bible if you don’t know it yourself. Study the Word. Look up all the ways God helped the disabled, Jesus healed them, and continued to do so through the apostles. Share what you learn with your child. Read Bible stories out loud – especially if reading is particularly hard for the child.
Pray for and with the child. When you see an ambulance, fire truck or police car go by with sirens and lights flashing, stop and pray, out loud, for the people they’re going to help as well as the paramedics, fire fighters and police officers themselves.
Keep open lines of communication between you and discipleship leaders and pastors. Let them know of any medicine changes, share your phone number with them and obtain their phone numbers. Share with all involved in the faith education of your child tricks and tips that work: schedules, ABA, lists, and especially triggers of meltdowns and autistic tantrums – and what to do when (not if) these happen.
Talk about Jesus
When we have a friend, we talk about him or her. Talking about Jesus – how He blessed you today, answered a prayer, what did He do in the Bible – can make Jesus real to a child who can’t yet understand that God is living and real, even though we cannot see Him (yet!…praise Him!). Don’t relegate talk of Jesus to dinner time blessings of food, or on Sundays only. Make Jesus more real than Santa Claus.
Develop an IFP (Individualized Faith Plan)
Working with discipleship leaders, develop an Individualized Faith Plan for your child. Similar to a public school’s Individualized Education Plan, this helps teachers know exactly what your child can do, and what your goals are for him. This means the child can grow in Christ in a systematic way. Develop a plan in which the faith teacher understands how the child learns (schedules, visual, hands-on), if reading is an issue, and what to do when a meltdown occurs.
Sam is very literal. During communion one Sunday, the pastor mentioned the “blood of Christ.” Sam freaked: go to church to drink blood? Explaining (in appropriate language) certain parts of church activities such as communion and baptism goes a long way in helping the child understand not just the physical acts of what’s happening, but how those activities relate to Jesus.
One incredible benefit of teaching a kid in concrete ways about God is that it builds your faith too. Parents are the child’s best teacher – we lead by example. These tips help all kids learn about Christ, not just disabled children. Kids who have disabilities need Jesus too; we just need to share Him.
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