Gemma Gill, lovely wife of Alec our associate vicar, has given me permission to share this here. “I’m all for raising awareness,” she says.
“THIS! Every week I wrestle with ‘would it not just be easier to stay at home…..? This was today’s experience :-
-I had to break it to Caleb that there were no children’s groups but there were games in the hall, immediately storms off screaming and shouting he’s not going.
– 30 mins of cajoling and packing a bag of ‘things’ he needs in order to feel comfortable going.
– get to church and he is having sensory issues over a graze on his foot not feeling right in his shoe, refuses to enter church.
-realises he forgot to pick up his bag of things when leaving the house, runs off into the graveyard.
– cue: Alec 5 mins before the service starts getting him to come inside.
-he sits next to me putting his shoes on and off, standing up, sitting down, growling, kicking the pew. I have to spend time calming him, suggesting multiple techniques that help, and end up rubbing his neck as a sensory calming down measure.
– he sits during the first song, face like thunder because the first song is one he doesn’t know and let’s everyone know it too!
– the second song he does know and things calm, but he tries to dance and he’s frustrated by his shoe again but won’t just take them off because it’s just not what you do.
– after the service he’s stomping around because there’s no cake, there’s not cake that often but, because there was cake last time, there should be cake today.
– he gets frustrated playing a board game with another child. I sit with him trying to keep him calm but he storms off shouting he wants to go home when he loses.
– and this is only him, there are three other half neglected children needing me too!
This is a snap shot, I don’t write for sympathy, but to raise awareness of what’s going on for an autistic child under the surface that no one has a clue about, why I don’t get to talk to everyone I’d like to, why I might seem off at times or when I’m chatting with you. I’m always watching him ready to step in when needed.”
This is real worship
We don’t realise the cost of bringing children to church to young parents, let alone parents of autistic children. I used to tell them, “You just getting to a service is a huge act of worship in itself. Even if you feel you’ve not engaged in the service, God has seen and loved your worship already.”
This is being like Jesus
In my view a church fellowship that does not welcome children being themselves betrays Jesus. When Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” I have no doubt that he knew the cost to the mothers. He wasn’t saying, “Let them come, I suppose, if they must – and as long as they behave themselves.” He was saying, “Let them come, and – whatever you do, don’t do anything to make it hard for them. Don’t shut them up when they make a noise. Don’t screw them to their seats.” Do you really imagine that the kids didn’t have a ball with Jesus? I don’t buy the old pictures of Jesus sitting with children meekly sitting in silence round him. As my granny used to say, “Humans say, ‘Sit still!’ God says, ‘Wriggle!’ – because He made them that way.
This enriches the Church
The early Church struggled to become diverse and inclusive, but that was clearly Jesus’ original intention and its ultimate destiny. Man-made distinctions like race, colour, social status, ability, sexuality and age were to be replaced with being “all one in Christ”. The Church was meant to be the one place on earth where everyone was bound together in love – the greatest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “Therefore give us love.”
Thanks, Gemma and Caleb, for making us a richer church where it matters. Thank you for being so honest. And we’re sorry that we make it harder.
PS Gemma has given this link to a wonderful/painful post by a mum with an autistic son, which it would help us all to read. Understanding is the first part of loving. When church hurts.