This list is based on a workshop, “How can Church be Autism-Friendly?”, led by Geralde Reesor-Grooters, originally from Netherlands and now living in Canada. The workshop was held on July 24 at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, Pa.
1. Understand the spectrum in “autism spectrum disorder.” As Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
2. People with autism often struggle with the abstract. Find ways to make Bible study or Sunday school more concrete with facts or hands-on activities.
3. Provide or allow headphones for use during the worship service by people feeling overwhelmed or sensory overload. Use visuals during the sermon as that helps everyone stay engaged.
4. As people with autism like routine and predictability, consider writing the order of the Sunday school class on the board.
5. One-third of families with children with disabilities change churches, said Reesor-Grooters. Reach out to these families to assure them they are not being disruptive or are unwelcome.
6. If you are a large church, consider starting a Sunday school class for children with special needs, like Trinity (Ariz.) Mennonite Church did.
7. If you have the space, offer a room for individuals to go during fellowship hour if people with autism need a break from crowds and people.
8. People with autism may also appreciate a break from sitting in pews or rows with others. Provide a rocking chair or couch beside or behinds the pews.
9. Start a support group for parents with children with autism in your local community, like some individuals at Eight Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., did.
10. Create a friendship or mentor group for youth with autism or other special needs during MYF (Mennonite Youth Fellowship) outings or conferences.