Angel was a quiet baby and based on my experiences at church, he was expected to remain quiet. Back then, we could attend church and get through a service without being banished to the lobby because someone thought that Angel was being disruptive.
As Angel got older, his behavior in church began to change as his attention span got shorter and shorter. He would squeal when everyone else was quiet and he would jump up and down on the pews. He was being a kid!
During this time, we got several glares from old ladies basically telling us to get Angel out, so they could hear the Word of God in peace.
Every time this happened, I would take Angel out into the lobby until the sermon was over. Our time in the lobby made me very angry. I was angry because I felt that the church should’ve had some kind of child care or at least a Sunday school for young children. I was also angry because I felt that Christians should be more empathetic instead of intolerant and judgmental. I know that Jesus would’ve have welcomed Angel into his church no matter what sounds he made.
Eventually, I became one of those Christians who only went to church during Easter, the holidays, or when family members came to visit. We did find another church with childcare but it was far away from where we lived. I remember going there on Angel’s birthday. After the service, one of the volunteers in the childcare room asked me if Angel was on medication. This was a complete turn off. I guess that was her way of saying that he had been a handful.
After Angel was diagnosed with autism, our church attendance decreased even more. I grew more and more apprehensive about finding a church that was “autism-friendly.”
On top of all of this, I have had to deal with an unspoken perception in my family, that I am not living a full life because I am not attending church every Sunday.
This past Sunday, we went to church with my siblings who were visiting for the weekend. My mom had told me that this church was very welcoming to children with autism. They are even exploring starting an autism ministry.
When we entered the main church building, we were directed to take Angel to an adjacent building where they were conducting Sunday school. As soon as we entered the room, I got nervous. There were four little children and three adults sitting quietly at a table going through some children’s bible story books.
The first thing I thought was that there was no way that Angel would just sit still for any Sunday school lesson. I promptly announced to everyone in the room that Angel is on the autism spectrum, so he may not be able sit still or fully participate.
Then, one of the teachers replied, “Oh, it is okay. We have a few of them here.” I let her reference to my son as a “them” slide. Once again, I was picking my battles. Angel tried to follow us when we were leaving and we reassured him that he will be okay and we will see him later.
I was anxious during the first half of the service. I kept wondering what Angel was doing and if they were being nice to him. I am sure that they were but I wondered anyway. I also wondered if Angel was sitting still at least some of the time. I knew he did not have the language to tell me, so all I could do was wonder.
During the latter half of the service, the ushers brought the children back into the main church. I was glad to see that Angel was smiling and in a great mood. He spent the rest of the service making loud sounds, kissing me and his dad on our cheeks, and asking us for HI-FIVES.
I had to smile when a young lady sang a solo and while everyone was clapping, Angel clapped and said, “Good Job!” At one point he yelled, “I Want Tickle!” In the midst of all this, there was one old lady who kept turning back and glaring at us. I glared back. Then, there was another lady sitting behind us who called Angel a “good boy” and said he had a lot of energy.
I tried to quiet him down. We all did. The pastor even told me from the pulpit to leave Angel alone. “He is okay,” she said. I hope the old lady who had been glaring at us heard what the pastor said. The pastor’s reassurance that it was okay for Angel to be himself meant so much to us.
After the service, the pastor told me that they have four other children in the congregation who are autistic and that one parent just told her that their child was just diagnosed with autism. She went on to explain why she told me to let Angel be. She said that trying to quiet him may aggravate him more.
Wow! A place where Angel can be him self and it is okay. Maybe we have found our church home. Time alone will tell.
Please share the experiences you have had with your child in your place of worship. I look forward to hearing