Helping My Son to "Handle" Church.


Hi everyone,  I'm new to this group.  But I want to share this experience because it might help some of you.

First, my son has severe Autism, limited language, aggressive and self-injurious behavior, very hyper, makes loud noises, etc.  So at first glance you probably are thinking that kid never could sit through a church service.  And I never thought he would either.  And my church does not have any supports in place to handle him anywhere else either.

But I am a stubborn woman and my church is full of kind people and the church leadership told me not to worry about disruptions and ... God is amazing!!!  So let me tell you how we went from dragging a screaming aggressive child out of the church to a happy singing one. 

At first I left my son at home.  My husband was a nonbeliever so my older son and I attended without them.  Then my husband and I separated and I was left with two boys (12 and 14).  I already knew from the journey that I was on that I could not lose my church.  Kavan (my son with Autism) already loved Christian music so I thought, fine.  I'll take them both to the music part.  Then Keelan (NT son) and I would take turn caring for Kavan while the other one stayed for the sermon. 

At first, I pushed it too far.  Kavan would get overwhelmed and freak out.  So I started paying closer attention to his signs and would ask if him he wanted to leave.  I would always leave immediately if he indicated that he wanted to.  After we went that way for a while, I started telling him that he had to wait "x minutes first", then we would leave.  If he spontaneously spoke that he wanted to leave.... I immediately left.  Now and then I would blow it and wait too long (and the hitting and screaming began).  But I got better and better at leaving before the meltdown.  And guess what, he started handling longer and longer times.  People were praying for us through it all.  And my church family was encouraging me all the time too.  Pretty soon, he was handling the entire music time.

Now during this time, my husband became saved and our family reunited.  Now there was 3 of us taking turns watching Kavan.  Each of us only missed a sermon once every three weeks.  Not bad.

But not long after that, our church added a second service.  My Sunday became a whirlwind but I was so happy because we all were participating.  It looked like this... Kavan and I would attend the early service music, I would rush home and drop him and then return for the early service sermon.  Then I would go home and get them all.  Kavan and I would stay for second service music.  Then Kavan and I would leave while Gordon and Keelan stayed for the sermon.  I was delighted although I did feel like a shuttle-bus driver! 

Well after months went by without a single episode of Kavan wanting to leave or any signs of a melt-down during Kavan's double-dose of music service.  So I stretched a little, and we stayed for a little longer (communion and offering and another song).  It continued to go well.  God threw in an extra blessing during these years where Kavan started singing to some of the songs.  I cried the first couple times that happened.

Finally I decided to do the unthinkable.  Kavan stayed through the sermon.  It went perfectly and so did the next week.  We've gone to an entire service as a family for 3 months now.  Sometimes I have to "shush" him a little but he's so good!!!  I'm still amazed.  The only problem we've had so far is when a visiting pastor was a bit of a "screamer".  Kavan was showing signs so we went out of the lobby.  But he didn't want to leave the church.  So we stayed out in the lobby until the speaker was done.

I know your children are different than mine.  So this story may be just an encouragment.  But who knows what God can do if you ask.  And this techinque (don't forget the prayer coverage) may be a solution for some of you.  Remember this process took 4 years but it may be quicker or slower depending on your child.  You may need to modify it a bit.  The church may have a place for you to hang out if the shuttle-bus plan won't work because of distance.  But hopefully it will give you some ideas.

Your sister in Christ, Jill

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Oh yea.  I forgot to mention that during the early stages, I always offered positive reinforcement on the days when we left church with no problem behaviors.  On days when he lost it, he received no reinforcement.  If you want to learn more about using positive reinforcment to shape behavior, let me know.

Basically we were successful because of several things:

#1 God blessed our efforts

# And people prayed for us and were supportive.  # I used positive reinforcement for good behavior.  # We tried to always leave while he still was being good.  # The program was designed to help him become "desensitized" to the church environment which was overwhelming to him.  ie. Gradually increasing his exposure as he became successful.  # And outside of church, we worked on him tolerating his frustrations.

#1 God blessed both our family and our church.  Many church members have told me how much Kavan's journey has meant to them.  To God be the glory.


What a neat story!  God is so faithful, isn't He.  Church attendance has been an off and on problem with our son, as well.  When his anxieties really started to rise (upper elementary/ middle school years), it was so hard to get him there.  We often resorted to only making him go to the morning service and one of us stayed home with him in the pm.  Even now (Kyle is 18) he often isn't able to go.  He really has a hard time with crowds...with sitting still for over an hour, etc.  We've accepted that and just don't fight him on it. 

We also had lots of battles with trying to get him to Cadets (8th grade year), Sunday School (middle school on up), and youth group (started out, but eventually dropped out).  This was hard for us...really went against the grain of what our experiences were as kids in the CRC.  But Kyle does not have the same emotional make-up that we do!  It was just so hard for caused such anxiety on so many levels.  For us it seemed almost "sinful" to not make him participate, but God was faithful in helping us see Kyle for who he is and what he is capable of.  He also highlighed in our minds what requirements are "man-made" verses what God is really asking from us.  This is one area where He's shown us that we need to be careful not to focus so much on the externals (what Kyle is doing/ participating in, etc), but to look at Kyle's heart, and how God is growing him.

Such an on-going journey, isn't it?