Friday, September 12, 2008

Church Gets Restraining Order Against 13-Year-Old Autistic Parishioner

Time and again we here at Fat Jack’s Erratic Rants have addressed the issue of church and disability and the conflict that arises in many churches across the nation when it comes to accommodating and accepting persons with disabilities in the faith.

One church obtained a restraining order, prohibiting one family from bringing their 13-year-old son with Autism, Adam, to church. The issue is complicated and is further muddled by the dissimilar claims on both sides. You should read the stories for yourself before chiming in. I will give a quick overview:

  • Adam wet his pants in church.
  • Adam almost knocked down an elderly person.
  • Adam hit a child.
  • Adam got into a parishioner’s car, started it and revved it up.

  • The church’s claims are exaggerated.
  • Adam has never urinated on anyone.
  • Adam has never spit on anyone.
  • Adam has never knocked anyone down.
  • Adam has not injured anyone.

Mom Fights Church Ban on her Autistic Son
Autistic Kid’s Outbursts Stir Furor and Guilt
Court Sides with Church on it’s Ban of Autistic Teen
Mother of Autistic Teen Gets Symbolic Support as She Prepares for Court

Previously, we ran an agency for persons with disabilities. More often than not, we encountered discrimination, intolerance, and disgust toward persons with disabilities. I have related before many stories from many parents who were asked by their churches to leave because of a child with Autism or another disability. People who are ignorant of Autism and other disabilities, simply assume that the child is not being disciplined properly.

There are churches who have made changes, developed accommodations, and educated the congregations so that people are more accepting and understanding. In most cases, this education fixes the problem so that everyone is welcome in worship.

More contemporary services can be especially good, as the services tend not to be so quite, but more celebatory, which creates an environment where a persons who has Austim and has verbal outbursts is not distracting. My friend, Clay, runs a church in the area. He has several persons with Autism and other disabilities. He has related to me several times that he and his congregation understand that those outbursts are this persons’ way of communicating with God and the service.

Having worked in the field, we do know that some persons can be very difficult. Some families do not seek out the required training needed to raise a child with Autism. There is not enough information in the stories to determine if that is the case with Adam. He is over 6-feet all and 225 pounds. That makes for a monstrous 13-year-old boy. Puberty does crazy things to children with disabilities, and violent tendencies can and do occur.

However, a loving church, in most circumstances, can create an environment where the issues are minimized. For instance, the elderly persons may choose to wait until Adam has left his pew, before getting up. If families do not leave their keys in the ignition, then neither he nor any other child will be able to start an automobile. The parents may need to remember that they must keep a closer watch on their son at all times.

Perhaps an organization like Springfield’s Judevine could intervene and assist both the church and the family so that everyone’s needs can be met. The congregation can learn about the brain disorder and the family can learn how to work with the church and empathize with the church’s concerns.

Education, acceptance and understanding takes time, patience and love. Churches can, in almost all instances, learn to adapt to the growing needs of the diverse community and be more accepting of all persons who need to worship. It seems to me that the churches need to accept the challenge of meeting the needs of the less fortunate. I seriously doubt that Christ would advocate for a restraining order against a child, banning him from church. Churches can begin that process now by talking about this issue.

My pastor sent me the links in this story. It came to him through our participation in The Wired Word, a weekly Sunday School curriclum that uses contemporary culture to discuss Christ in the 21st Century. The very issue of Adam and the push-pull of accommodating challenging populations is the subject of this week’s discussion. How do we as a church handle such a situation if it were to arise. What does the Bible say? It is this proactive approach that makes churches accessible to the people it serves.


Sky Girl said...

I hope that the family and the church are able to work out an agreement. Sometimes having a neutral mediator at the table can help both sides see where they may need to compromise to come for a solution that can work for all.

In general, I think the banning of those with autism simply for making loud noise is not a good practice. However, if a person for any reason is dangerous to others, safety must be a consideration. I couldn't really tell from reading the articles if there were valid safety concerns in this case.

Jack said...

Therein lies the problem, Sky Girl. We do not know enough to make any kind of educated determination.

Is he really a danger or is it just fear and ignorance on the part of the church? Perhaps it is a bit of both? We just don't know.