Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autism and Church

This fall our family resumed a discussion that we have had on and off for years.  The discussion was about church.  Zachary, my youngest came to the age when he could start attending the middle school Youth Group that happens to be run by a good friend of mine.  She does amazing things with her teens and they get to experience things they wouldn't get to anywhere else.  Zachary happily became involved and quickly fell in love with his Wednesday Youth Group. 

Church is not something we have ever done as a family.  Todd did with his family as a child, but my memories of church only revolved around going with which ever families house I had slept over at the Saturday night before. I spent a lot of time in the Catholic church but only because my best friend was Catholic!   Church was not a part of my immediate family.  This set me apart from a lot of other people growing up in a city that is literally referred to as the city "with a church on every corner".  Church, after all, is supposed to give a sense of community and belonging, among other things.  At least I think so. 

Over the years, discussion of bringing our boys to church would surface we would have a short discussion then it would quickly dissipate.  There were so many questions of not only how Daniel would react and if he could sit through a service but would he be accepted.  I can't tell you how many families I have come across that were not welcome in their church because the congregation could not accept the differences of their child. The fact that they couldn't sit still or blurted out, or whatever happened, made them unacceptable.  I still can't understand this.  How could a CHURCH tell someone they aren't welcome?  That is just mind boggling.  It has never happened to us, but I've heard it many times.  That is enough to scare me. It is just another way that autism is so isolating to families.  Not to mention the fact that our lives are a LOT of work anyway.  Thinking about all the prep it would take to get Daniel prepared for church...well, it's just overwhelming.  It has been much easier to just keep Sunday a day of relaxing.   Therefore, the discussions would end and we would go back into our Sunday routine of sleeping in, hanging out and swimming. 

On Wednesday's before Youth Group, the church serves a dinner for all who want to come.  We have attended a few times when the food works for us, because between Zach's allergies and Daniel's pickiness, it seems like it would be impossible but we have actually all eaten there!  During these visits, we didn't realize it, but Daniel was acclimating himself to the church.  One of the first steps of starting something new is getting used to the surroundings themselves.  Without even realizing it, we were doing it.  Frankly, it was nice to be falling into Step 1 without even worrying about it.  It also gave us a taste of the church community.  I liked being there, with the elderly church ladies and the little toddlers and the teens and the families.  It was nice to feel a part of something and I could see Daniel liked it too.  Even if only for a few minutes.  Even if the pinball machine, and snacks are a lure.  Who cares?  It's important for him to feel comfortable.  That is something we can build on.

Then Daniel went up to the Youth Parlor with Zachary one night.  Just for a few minutes before it started.  Most of the kids are up there "hanging out" so Daniel went up with a friend of ours to check it out.  Much to his surprise the youth parlor, among other things, has 3 of Daniel's favorite things:
 1.  a full sized pinball machine!
 2.  a disco ball hanging from the ceiling and
 3.  popcorn

Any one of these is enough to sell Daniel on a place, so having all three is like the Holy Trinity! (look at me getting all churchy)  He was hooked.   So now if time allows, he goes to the youth parlor for about 10 minutes before Youth Group starts on Wednesday to play a game of pinball, or pool (oh yeah, a pool table too) walk around and have a few bites of popcorn.  The first time he ever went to the Youth Parlor a boy named Jack who is Zachary's age offered Daniel some of his popcorn.  It was only a few weeks ago that Zachary told me that now whenever Daniel goes into the Youth Parlor he goes and finds Jack to ask for popcorn.  After all, he gave it to him the first time, he MUST be the keeper of all of the popcorn! 

Watching Daniel become familiar with the church made Todd and I think it just might be possible.  So the discussions began again.  I contacted my friend who is in charge of the Youth Group and sort of got the schedule of what was coming up.  Today we took the plunge.  We jumped in. Ready or not.  But, for this, you'll have to stay tuned for part two. . .

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