By Ross Johnson, Lead Pastor, Gathering Pointe Church
Admittedly, I know very little about Autism. I have had very limited interaction with those who have Autism as well as those who are doing their very best to parent children who have been diagnosed with Autism. What causes it in some children and not others? Why are some affected to different degrees than others? What is the best way to reach out and minister to those impacted by Autism?
So in order to learn more about Autism, I asked a mom of an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child who is also a member at Gathering Pointe Church to come to our home so that I could ask her some personal and direct questions. The time spent was incredibly eye-opening, educational and quite honestly, heartbreaking. This article will just scratch the surface of what I learned about how Autism affects their son, their family, and how we as a church can more effectively minister to their family and others in the same situation.
Perhaps the greatest take away from my time with this incredible mother was the fears that they face on almost a daily basis. This mother relayed to me that most parents of ASD typically fear several things. They fear to let go. It is hard for them to let their child go into new, strange environments for a variety of reasons. They fear of judgment of others, especially in social situations. The reality is, there is not one parent that wants to be looked at as a bad parent. But when an Autistic child behaves in a way that could be deemed as “not typical,” she fears what others think of her child as well as her as a parent. She relayed to me a recent story in which she and her son were out for lunch at a local restaurant. As her son sat in his chair (quietly I might add), with his headphones on, gazing into his iPad and chewing on a device they use to keep him distracted from the overwhelming environmental stimuli, she could feel the looks of judgment closing in on her. As a result, she felt increasingly angry and fighting the desire to lash out to the onlookers in defense of her son. Then there is the fear of persecution, bullying and her child not being able to “fit in.” As I sat and listened to this mother share her heart, often with tears and brokenness, I couldn’t help but be broken with her and for her.
What can I do as their pastor? What can we do as a church? What can we do as a community? There are no easy answers, and I fear many of the solutions may seem extremely superficial. One of the particular replies was straightforward yet sincere; pray. Pray that God would free them of their fears and anxieties. Pray that God would protect those impacted by Autism, both the children and the families. But not only pray, but we must guard how we react and respond to those with Autism. In our day to day lives, it is easy to make very quick judgment calls. We must push back against that tendency of our human nature. Whether we know the underlying issues or not, Jesus’ call to treat others as we would want to be treated (also known as the Golden Rule) must come into play. We must demonstrate patience and compassion. We must do everything in our power to live with understanding and treating them as typical kids, all the while understanding what their “typical” may look like, because more than likely, it will not fit into our definition of “typical.” One of the practicalities we often speak of at our church is, “understanding requires proximity.” To honestly get to know and understand what struggles and heartaches others are facing requires that we get close. To truly understand the impact that an ASD diagnosis truly makes, we must draw near to and love on those impacted by that diagnosis.
I would like to leave you all with one closing remark that this mother made to me as we wrapped up our time together. Her son is clearly a gift from God, “God gave us our son” she so adamantly stated. The Bible is clear: we are made in the image of God. Before any of us were born into this world, He knew us. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:14 “…We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” -All of us.
May we all seek to live this life with that understanding and go with the intentional mission to love others as God has loved us—Imperfections and all.
Knowing God and Blessing the World,
Pastor Ross Johnson
Gathering Pointe Church
Meets Sundays at Imagine School
2940 Sunlake Blvd
Land O Lakes, FL 34638
Sundays at 10:30 AM