It's everywhere, bursting from our schools and neighborhoods and playgrounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in every 110 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. But with numbers like this, shouldn't our churches, of all places, be bursting with autism too? Certainly our pews are packed with families basking in the love and support of the church. Right?

Not exactly.

The truth is that most families with autistic children can't make it to the door of the church. So our churches don't always see the need. I know, because for many years we were one of these invisible families. Church, like the rest of life, just didn't work. There were barriers, unspoken requirements, like sitting still and staying quiet and paying attention. But there isn't a pause button for autism. Max didn't seem to fit. For five years we stayed home on Sunday mornings. Actually, we stayed home most every other day too, me and my beautiful son, isolated like we were lepers.

Finally, when Max turned 13, I could bear it no longer. I brought him back for the one thing he always loved about church when he was a toddler: when it was over. So, that's exactly when we showed up. We called it "backwards church." People were pouring out of the sanctuary and we walked in! It was the coffee hour, which at our church feels more like a backyard barbecue—friends talking and laughing, children playing Nerf football. Max fit right in. But something else was going on: God was about to grab his spiritual tool belt.

Within minutes Max started helping some of the men who were stacking chairs in the sanctuary. Before we left, one of the men approached Max. He put his hand on Max's shoulder and asked if he would ...

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