Many families with special needs children struggle with the issue of church attendance, and we are no different. Going to church has been a big part of my life since I was five years old, and my husband and I have been attending our current church for over 10 years now. Although it is a great church with a lot of wonderful people, there was a time when it was very hard for me to be there.
The difficulty came when Michael turned three and wasn’t ready to go into the preschool program at church. We had just gotten the diagnosis of autism and were completely overwhelmed in every way. And there just weren’t enough volunteers to fill all the regular slots for children’s ministry, let alone have extra people to act as a “buddy” for my son.
By the time he was three and a half, we decided it was time to move him out of the nursery and into the three-year-old room. My husband and I began taking turns going in with him each week, plus I was still working in the toddler room one Sunday a month at this point. This left me with one Sunday each month to attend the regular service, and I often didn’t even make it through that because my emotions were still so strong.
I couldn’t bear to watch the other adults worshiping freely while I was constantly worried about how my child was doing. I cried many times just seeing the other “normal” children who came into the service with their parents at times. Although many of these feelings are a common reaction to receiving a diagnosis like this, my turmoil was also magnified due to the depression that I had been struggling with for several years.
As time went on, things became easier for all of us. Michael made progress and become more independent; some of the teachers in the preschool program took an interest in him and began to learn more about how to help with his challenges; I began to heal inside and find comfort in participating in worship again. We have also seen tremendous changes in the last year with the appointment of a new director of children’s ministry who has purposefully reached out to families dealing with special needs.
I will write more specifically about what we are doing at our church to minister to special needs families next week, but for now, I just want to encourage you that there is always hope for change and growth, whether it is in our children, ourselves, or the communities we belong to. And if you are at a good place in your journey, keep your eyes open for a “new” mom or dad that you can give some support or encouragement to in their struggles.
Photo courtesy of slack12