Monday, April 25, 2011

Autism Awareness- Guest Blogger Danyelle Ferguson

Filling the Spiritual Cup for People with Autism and Their Families
By Danyelle Ferguson

April is Autism Awareness month. Throughout the month we hear a lot about signs to look for, the stress of raising a child with autism, and even about legislature bills and hope for a cure. But one area that hasn’t been discussed is how to help individuals with autism and their families be a part of their church congregation.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to regularly attend church with a child who has behavioral, sensory, and transition issues. For a good eight years, my son couldn’t handle the lights in our chapel, the echoes from the microphone system, or the crowds of people. During the majority of those eight years, my husband and I took turns staying home with our son during the larger congregational meeting, then going with him to attend his Sunday school classes. We were lucky to have people in our congregation who worked in special education. They volunteered to help our son understand the church routine and adapt lessons so he would understand the teachings. But most church leaders are overwhelmed and unsure how to serve and help families with special needs.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips for church leaders and congregation members to help individuals with autism, as well as some ideas of how to support the whole family.

1. Ask if the child with autism is using any techniques at school to understand his schedule. Many children with special needs use a picture system or a written detailed daily calendar so they know what to expect. If there is something the child is using successfully at school, then take that concept and use it at church too. Many school teachers are happy to provide any special instructions that may be needed to create the schedule.

2. Find out about the child’s interests, hobbies, and strengths. Then become his friend. Talk to him about the things he’s interested in. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to express gospel teachings. For example, if a little boy loves to play Mario video games, then talk to him about how Mario is a good friend to Luigi. Then reinforce that concept with how Jesus wants us to be good friends with everyone. If the little boy asks if Jesus loves Mario, then say yes. To that little guy, Mario is just as real as you are. Be willing to enter the child’s world and share your teachings in a different way that is appealing to him. He’ll not only remember what you taught him, but he’ll also start to seek you out because he enjoys talking to you.

3. Take the time to figure out how you can help the parents refill their cups each week. Give them an opportunity to take a break and attend their Sunday school classes. When parents have the opportunity to decompress and enjoy church services, then they are much happier in their lives all around. They are better parents, better spouses, and have more patience to take on the challenges that await them during the upcoming week.

4. If the child with special needs has a difficult time during the larger congregational meeting, then friends could ask to take the child for a walk in the halls. If you often sit near this family each week, you could bring a few quiet items in your bag that this family’s kids would enjoy. If the parents need to go out with cranky kids or diaper changes, you could offer to sit with their other children. It’s often little things that make a huge difference. I often felt like our family was the misfit family of the congregation. It was other families who showed us a bit of extra love who helped me feel welcome and accepted at church.

5. Pray for the family and let the family know that you are praying for them. The power of prayer combined with the knowledge that others are praying for you is powerful. Answers and miracles come through prayer. Be specific in your prayers . . . and also be willing to listen for promptings to follow when they are given as well.

There are a million other things I’d love to share with you as well. This is just the tip of the “advice” mountain. Overall, what I feel the most important thing a church leader can do for anyone living with autism (or any other special needs) is to genuinely be interested in them and show love through friendship and service. Do as the Savior taught and “Love One Another”.

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She enjoys helping others along the journey of special needs through parent support group presentation, church program trainings, and answering emails from her readers. You can find out more about Danyelle on her website:

Give Back to Your CommunityIn conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, Danyelle is donating 1 copy of her book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel, to a church, charity or library, for every 10 book orders she receives through her website. For more information, visit her website:

*I'd like to thank Danyelle for sharing these tips with us about Autism Awareness and how a church family can assist and teach children with special needs. Check out her website for details on her new book (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ.


  1. Thank you for inviting me to talk about autism on your blog, Steve!

  2. This is GREAT advice, Danyelle. We had similar problems with our son, Joshua. He just couldn't handle the crowds and distractions in church. It was very frustrating and led to two years of our inactivity. Thank goodness for new teachers and Joshua's friends. They took him in and made him feel welcome. Now he loves church and participates in all meetings and activities during the week. I can't wait for your book to come out. Congrats on finding a great publisher.

  3. Thank you for your tips, I think the main help I've had at church is people who are interestood, willing to talk about the problems. And it was a help when people helped with all my kids if I had to take one out. A big thank you to all who care enough to show it.

  4. This book should be helpful to all those dealing with an autistic child.

  5. Christine - Big hugs for being brave enough to try coming back to church again. I've met with so many families who had similar experiences as you, and after bad experiences were too nervous to try again. I'm glad you found wonderful people to help make church the experience it should be.

    Mary - Thank you for sharing what helped you at church. It's wonderful when people are comfortable enough to ask how they can help and are good friends.

    Vicki - I'm excited for how this book will help families with autism and other cognitive disabilities. Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts! =)

  6. Thanks for the great post Danyelle and thanks for the comments. I'm looking forward to reading the book