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(Canada) BC: ONE IN 29 CHILDREN ARE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM; call for inclusion

  April 27, 2024, Penticton (BC) Herald: Church can be more aware of autism

On Wednesday, I went with a colleague to a conference in Abbotsford.

We stopped at the “Home Restaurant” in Hope, known for its delicious food and huge lemon meringue pie. It’s a friendly and welcoming place, and as I walked in, I saw a poster announcing that April is Autism Awareness Month.

The poster also stated that 1 in 29 children in B.C. are on the Autism Spectrum. I didn’t know this fact before, but I noticed that the waitresses were wearing badges that said “CAN” (Canucks Autism Network). This got me thinking about people I know who are on the Autism Spectrum and attend church. As faith communities, we need to open our doors wide and support everyone in our community, including those with autism.

Churches serve as vital community hubs, offering spiritual guidance and social support.

However, for individuals with autism, participating in church activities can sometimes be challenging due to sensory sensitivities and social communication differences. To make our church environments welcoming and accessible to everyone, we need to be proactive. Autistic individuals often have heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli like sound, light, and touch. Churches can accommodate these needs by offering services in spaces with adjustable lighting and sound. Providing noise-cancelling headphones or quiet rooms where services can be streamed allows individuals to engage with worship comfortably. Social interactions can be overwhelming for some autistic individuals.

Church leaders can educate their congregations about autism, promoting acceptance and understanding. Creating structured social activities where expectations are clear can also reduce anxiety and help autistic members feel more secure.

Including autistic individuals in all church, activities is crucial; this can be achieved by offering diverse roles that cater to different comfort levels and skills, such as participating in the choir, assisting in administrative duties, or helping with setup and takedown for events. . . .

Additionally, it is essential to be flexible and open to feedback about how church activities can be improved to serve all members, including those with autism.

I know this in theory, but we are not very good at this as churches. It’s high time we churches start to understand better and include those who feel marginalized. It should be our heart and mission to welcome everyone with open arms.

It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see a small roadside restaurant in Hope do a better job of spreading this message.

Nevertheless, while I can’t match their lemon meringue pie, I am determined to do better in my way. Thank you, Hope.

Phil Collins is the lead pastor at Willow Park Church in Kelowna.


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