(Originally written in 2013)
I sat in the waiting room while James was in the back for his speech therapy. Most weeks, the other moms, siblings, and I all stay busy with the variety of electronic devices we bring. That day, however, I decided to be brave and start some discussions. We talked schools, doctors, and finally, church.
“I’ve read 90% of families with special needs kids don’t go to church. Do you guys think that’s true?” I asked.
The others moms nodded their heads. They all talked about how hard it is to go to church. One tries to have her son sit with her in the service, but he makes lots of noise and she’s afraid of disrupting others. Another mom said her church has a very loud children’s service and her girls can’t handle all that sensory input. Every one of the moms in the room had reasons not to go.
Let’s be honest—it’s not easy for families like ours to go to church. Most families have a list of excuses why they can’t make it to a worship service, but special needs families have legitimate reasons. But the New Testament talks about the importance of meeting together. The book of Acts gives stories of early churches, the Epistles are written to churches, and even the book of Revelation has praise and warnings for churches. The Christian life is to be lived in community. If we stay home, we are not only hurting ourselves and our families, but we’re also hurting the church, who needs families like ours to be complete.
When we first got James’s autism diagnosis, he was the only special needs child at our church. Because my husband is a pastor, we couldn’t just stay home each Sunday. We also couldn’t shop around for a megachurch that already had an established special needs ministry. We knew God had us at our church for a reason, and that reason included introducing them to the world of special needs.
Now, over two years after his diagnosis, we have a strong special needs ministry. Our church has an occupational therapist and a special ed teacher who stepped up to head the ministry. We offer respite nights every two months for kids with special needs and their siblings. We integrate kids with special needs into our Sunday school classes, Awana program, and Vacation Bible School. We continue to train volunteers to ask about food allergies, know the signs of a seizure, and modify lessons so every child can participate.
It hasn’t been an easy two years. It took a lot of patience on our part. It took a lot of prayer. As James grows, I know we will face more challenges. But I also know God wants us at church, so He will continue to help us find ways to make it happen.