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Penn. churches "welcoming" to autistic CHILDREN; more places do the same

Nov 16, 2019, Lehigh Valley (PA) Morning Call: To help bring families back into the fold, Emmaus church becomes welcoming place for children with autism …When Beryl Snyder heard the story, it troubled her. She was even more disturbed later when one of the staff members at the church — St. John’s United Church of Christ in Emmaus, where Snyder is director of Christian education — shared an article that said an extraordinarily high percentage of parents with autistic children seldom or never attend services because their children might cause disruptions. “That can’t happen,” Snyder declared. “These children can’t help what they have."… Fidgeting and tantrums among children in church are hardly confined to autistic children, of course. They are more common because autism is a sensory disorder, meaning lights, textures and sounds can prove especially distressing. Affecting roughly 1 in 60 children, autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. And the movement to create welcoming environments for autistic people has been taking hold in recent years. In 2015, for example, the theater group at Muhlenberg College mounted “sensory friendly” productions of a musical, with soft lighting and quieter music and dialogue. DeSales University does the same thing at its Shakespeare Festival. … Last year, Lehigh Valley International Airport became just the third airport in the world to open a sensory room for children with autism. Sesame Place in Bucks County became the first theme park in the world to be designated a Certified Autism Center, a status bestowed by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. And the Chuck E. Cheese in Whitehall joined others in the chain to start Sensory Sensitive Sundays. Churches, too, are part of the movement. One website lists more than a dozen churches in the Lehigh Valley that accommodate autistic children in some way, by providing special shorter services, for example, or having volunteers on hand to assist families. The Catholic Diocese of Allentown’s website includes a section with resources for parishes and parents seeking to accommodate people with disabilities, including children with autism. Those resources include a booklet on the Mass designed for children with autism or children who are visual learners. Calvary Church has programs for people with autism and other special needs at its Quakertown and Souderton campuses. Snyder’s initial research, though, led her not to churches but to the Reading Public Museum, which was the first museum in Pennsylvania to become a Certified Autism Center. …


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