Google “autism and religion.” When I did so, I was flooded with results explaining why people on the spectrum are less likely to believe in God or participate in organized religion. Many sources explain how the desire for logical answers to all of life’s questions isn’t congruent with some of the mysteries that come with a belief in God. But this wasn’t my experience observing my brother on the spectrum as we grew up together. He appreciated the comfort of a religious routine and thrived in a religious community. Religious families hoping to offer their children on the spectrum all the fulfillment of a life centered around a belief in God can look to others on the spectrum or other religious families for guidance.
Autism and Religion: Advice from Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin explained in an article for Autism Asperger Digest that it helps to explain religion with concrete examples. She explains that parents can help teach their children morality with concrete examples of what is helpful and positive to others. Grandin suggests giving children a WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) necklace or key chain and then teaching them specific ways Jesus acted for them to model, such as playing fair, acting generous, being honest, sharing, etc. Grandin said there are hundreds of different ways parents can share their faith with their child on the spectrum through “daily demonstrations of goodness.”
Grandin wrote, “This is more important, and will help the child in his or her future more than will learning to recite passages or text, or trying to teach him or her higher level concepts that the child will have difficulty understanding.”
If you will be taking your child to an organized church service or religious education program, it’s wise to visit the environment ahead of time to determine how best to manage your child’s needs. Help your child practice religious rituals at home and follow-up with your child and the religious education teacher to help your child make sense of the lessons. There are a number of references that offer guidance for parents in this area, some of which are listed below.
Some churches have programs dedicated to serving parishioners with disabilities, so it is worth inquiring about. Next week we will hear from a director of one such religious education program who will explain about some of the services his parish program offers.