I personally don’t have a child in the autism spectrum, but I know people who do.
Families with children on the spectrum already feel overwhelmed and misunderstood, and coming to Church should be a blessing for them, and not somewhere they feel left out. I was asking my cousin Erin (remember her?) for ways to help children in a Sunday School or Children’s Church type setting. I found her information interesting, helpful and worthy of sharing.
- visual learning may be the most helpful. (create ways to help him visual organize and pay attention)
——-this can be done by either coming up with picture references to correspond to the lesson, a miniature visual schedule to help him get through all of Sunday ( stories, play, snack, craft, etc.) and maybe even give him small phrases or putting things to song to help him learn
- possibly create a token system for attention (stickers or token pieces (from a favorite cartoon character or animal etc.) to represent a larger reward he can ‘cash’ in after SS is over)
——-tokens can be earned for staying in our seat, having a quiet body, trying new things, playing with friends, raising our hand etc.(if this is something that interests you all the number of tokens starts out small and increases over time to delay reinforcement, but it has to be clear to him before the day starts (“today we are working for 4 sponge bob tokens. How do we earn tokens?” and have him repeat back different ways)
- make sure he knows the expectations for the day, sometimes a good and bad choice list is helpful (if that isn’t too abstract for him)
- reinforce with praise, tokens or even edibles (small portions of food-piece of a cookie vs a whole cookie, a cut up gummy bear vs. a whole one)
- if distraction and behaviors become a problem create a quiet spot in the room that he can go to to calm down (pillows, bean bag, dark and maybe quiet music) also working for a “break” can be a helpful tool (getting away from others and the overwhelming noise or fluorescent lights)
- intersperse tasks he can complete easily with new tasks or learning (if he can and likes to do a puzzle try a new task first then a mastered task)
- if there is a worksheet or lesson activity that goes along with the weekly Bible story highlight main ideas with a highlighter of his favorite color
God created each and every child in His own image. Coming to a local church should be a place of love and acceptance for families, especially those with special needs children. I pray that you can take some of this information and love up on a family in your community.
Keep in mind that not all the above suggestions will work with every child. Parents are your ultimate tool to understanding the child. Ask questions of Mom and Dad to make sure you are using the same reinforcements that they use at home.