Editor’s note: National Autism Awareness Month is coming up in April. More than 3.5 million Americans live with autism spectrum disorder, whose symptoms vary widely from case to case. In light of the growing prevalence of autism, parents and church leaders are speaking out about the church’s role in welcoming families of children with autism or other developmental disorders.

Below, Sandra Peoples shares her family’s story. You can also read five tips for churches from writer Nish Weiseth. — Kate

Back in 2010, we held our three-year-old son’s hand and walked in to a meeting with a school psychologist, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist. We walked out holding our autistic son’s hand.

That moment changed everything in our lives. Our family dynamics shifted as we opened our home to four different therapists each week. Dinner became not only time to eat together, but also to help James regain the language skills he had lost (“Who is this? Daddy. Say ‘Daddy.’”). I settled into the idea of working from home to be available to him. Since insurance only covered a portion of his therapies, we adjusted our finances to cover the rest. We began to look into the future as a family of three, rather than envisioning me and my husband as eventual empty-nesters. I also turned to the Psalms and Job more and more.

One thing that couldn’t change was the church we attended. My husband, the pastor of a small church in central Pennsylvania, felt called to stay despite our concerns that our congregation might not be able to meet our son’s needs. Then, a member of the church who works in occupational therapy got some sensory-friendly toys for his Sunday school room. She ...

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