The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. What does this mean for the Church? It’s time for the Body of Christ to evaluate how we reach out to those with special needs.
Here are three things the Church should be asking during Autism Awareness Month:
1-Who are we reaching? I hope your church has a true passion for people. I pray you are a group of people who desire nothing more than to love God and share His love with others. I would expect to find that “Missions” is part of the heartbeat of the congregation. However, when the pew meets the pavement, what does this look like?
I fear that it has become too easy for Christians to donate to a worthy cause, get the t-shirt, and walk away. It’s easier for us to open our wallets to help dig a well on the other side of the world than it is to give our time, change the diaper of a 10-year-old with special needs, or cry alongside the family who has just received a diagnosis. Donating to a cause demands very little from us. The latter is messy, it makes us uncomfortable, and it might take some commitment. But I can tell you this, there is a huge, unreached mission field right here in America.
In 2012, the CDC conducted a study that estimated 1 in 68 children were affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  It is also estimated that very few families who have a child with ASD attend church on a regular basis. So, whether we realize it or not, the autism community is affected by the Church. They are either embraced, loved, and accepted, or they are falling through the cracks. Dear Church, who are you reaching?
2-Do we have a willing heart? Churches often ask how they can start a program for special needs children. They feel ill-equipped, have no budget, and honestly, they’re scared. Training, security, and activities are all essential elements of creating a program, but there is one thing you must have first: a willing heart. Church, you must develop a heart for ministering to those with special needs.
I have visited churches with my own child who has autism. Some churches had state-of-the-art equipment, but the members did not have a heart for those with special needs. It was evident the moment we walked in. It made us uncomfortable to leave our child, so we didn’t.
I have visited churches who had little more than a room of bean bag chairs and a teacher who fumbled through reading the Bible to the special needs children in her class. But the church had a heart for those with special needs, and they sought to include them in all that they did. They cared, so we stayed.
There are families out there who long to be accepted and loved. They want their child to belong, to be a part of a community. All we need is a willing heart.
3-What happens if we do nothing? Simply put, nothing. The Church will continue being the Church. We are a beautifully broken group of people who gather under the banner of Christ’s grace and unconditional love. We will keep loving people, feeding people, worshipping, and growing. We will keep donating to missions. We will continue in our comfortable Christianity.
But, we must also know that in our communities, perhaps in one of the very houses that line the street of our Church, there is a child who has autism. This child struggles to feel understood and accepted. This child’s mom cries herself to sleep as she fears for the future of her child. This child’s father is grasping to find peace in the midst of a life no one could have prepared him for. This family is searching. They are looking to be loved, and they are lonely. They are falling through the cracks. They are part of an unreached mission field, right under our noses.
Dear Church, if not us, then who? We have a grand opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let us embrace disability ministry and ultimately those who are hurting!
Nichole Huggins is a wife and mother of two. As the parent of a special needs child, Nichole willingly discloses the trials, triumphs, and life lessons of having a child with Autism. She writes at www.LoveinaDifferentLanguage.com where she offers insight and hope as she shares about parenting, Autism, and the faith that holds it together.