The month of April at Impact Church is special! If you were in Worship this morning then you saw everyone wearing blue in honor of Autism Awareness Month. For those who have been connected with Impact for a while, our support and ministry to children with Autism is commonplace. However, for those who are not familiar with Impact, I would like to articulate why we feel so compelled and called to serve these children and their families.
The following is a letter written by a mother of a child with Autism. Although, many of us may not know her personally, her sentiments are shared by over 900 families in Greensboro. These are stories that Sarah Althoff, Kay Davis, and Norma McLamb heard almost every day in the public school system. The reality is that believing families were looking for a place to worship but were unable to because of the church’s inability to accommodate the needs of their children. We became “aware” of the problem. However, we began to feel God’s stirring to not just be aware but to be active participants in the solution.
Excerpt from Autism and The Church by Amy Fenton Lee:
Have you ever heard of a church that turned away a little boy because he had red hair? What if a mother was greeted at the children’s ministry check-in with news her redheaded son had to go back home? No, you can’t imagine. If any church ever sent home a child because of their natural hair color it would make the evening news!
Now, have you ever heard of a church that turned away a little boy because he was on the autism spectrum? What if a mother was greeted at church check-in with the news that her son with autism couldn’t be accommodated? Yes, you can imagine. It happens.
Did you know that the percentage of Americans with red hair is roughly equal to the percentage of 8-year-old boys diagnosed with autism? I think it’s fair to say that statistically speaking, a children’s ministry should have the same number of participating boys with autism as with red hair. That’s pretty sobering. People would go nuts (justifiably) if families of redheaded kids had to figure out which churches were “redhead friendly”. The reality is that this same scenario is happening now for families of kids with autism. While many churches are working to become special needs-friendly, there is room for improvement.
Recently a church leader said to me, “We just don’t have any kids with significant special needs in our church. We haven’t seen the need to create a ministry or think about doing anything special to accommodate students with disabilities.”
In the church world, we’re at a fork in the road. Up to now, it’s been an accepted norm that not all churches could or should accommodate kids with autism and other special needs. Realistically, churches cannot all accommodate these needs to the same degree. But times are changing. It is no longer acceptable for any church to be unaware of and unprepared to welcome families with special needs. Every church needs a plan for inclusion.
These real-life experiences led Impact to consider what we could do to help and in that searching we found a calling that has given us immeasurably more than we have given it. As of now, Impact Church has certified teachers at every worship service that provide individual and appropriate instruction and care for children with Autism. On Sunday mornings, we have a time of worship and music specifically for children with special needs. Furthermore, we have a 4 week Impact Autism Summer Camp, culminating in the Autism Extravaganza (a big block party, outdoor celebration) that is providing acceptance, love, and resources for hundreds of children in our area. Lastly, we have also founded Impact Journey School, a private school for children with special needs. We currently serve 30 children with 14 staff members including ABA curriculum, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and music therapy. Praise the Lord! We are thankful for the heart of the church that makes these events and ministries possible.
Lastly, as thankful as we are for all that we have been able to do, we are willing and desiring to learn and expand as we see needs increase. Therefore, if you have any ideas as to how we can better serve children with Autism and their families please let us know. We want to be a part of the solution!