Special Needs Surrounding the Church

The overflow room was crowded Easter Sunday as my son laid in the floor stimming during the sermon. Even with more people around, I sank briefly into the familiar sensation of isolation. This feeling, however, was chipped away by hugs as church members passed me and sweet treats shared by the toddlers’ nursery volunteers that morning.

Later, I checked Facebook to stumble upon a thread in a Christian Autism group. A mom posted a picture with her Autistic teenager sitting in their vehicle in their church’s parking lot. With permission, I am sharing the comments that followed.

We don’t have to know each back-story to sympathize with how difficult and frustrating the puzzle piece of church life can be for others. Unless you are a parent to a Special Needs child, these comments represent decisions you have probably never had to consider about church. In fact, most of us with Special Needs children never thought about decisions like these until we had these special children!

Take a minute to clothe yourself in this daily frame of mind. Let your heart feel loneliness, isolation, and the quiet beckoning to be meaningfully involved in the church, yet on the perimeter.

In the parking lot trying to live stream our Easter service (unsuccessfully) and wondered if anyone out there is doing the same thing.

I left my 15 year old on his own this morning while I went to church. So much easier, although it is hard leaving him.

We stay in the library with a speaker on the wall to hear the service.

In the church office watching on tv…too many people.

We made it but apparently asking for a pic was too much.

We’ve been trying to go all morning. Three services and we didn’t get to any of them.

We stopped (trying) because of sensory issues. We listen to sermons at home. Maybe when he gets older…

Couldn’t get my 16 year old out of the truck.

I was in the service while my husband was upstairs with our son in a children’s class.

We sat in the café and watched on a tv while my other child was in Sunday school.

We were late and there were no seats. We were all frustrated.

My church is awesome and loves my son, but…he was too overwhelmed with the excitement so we ended up in the car.

No complainers. No finger-pointers. No church-bashers.

I struggled to read past the first three without crying and wondering What can I do to overcome this difficulty for them?

Christian Special Needs parents are struggling to come to church.

And honestly, as a Special Needs Mom and Ministry Wife…I am not sure of the solution, but I want to help find an answer!

… if not for everyone…SOMEONE!!

Yes, there are families who are looking for excuses, who cannot be helped because they do not want to be helped. But some are sitting in parking lots, hiding in classrooms, and pacing in hallways on the outside looking in.

What can we do?

These questions helped me identify “inclusion holes.” Perhaps these will challenge you also! Consider where changes might be easily incorporated and what first steps can be made toward creating a more inclusive environment for Special Needs Families in your church.

Are there opportunities for families to plug in where they feel comfortable if they are a little noisy (worship, small group, Sunday school class, meals)?

• Is there a comfortable, non-geographically-isolated location to watch the service AND be surrounded by other believers?

• Do we have space for a sensory room that also allows connection with other families while watching the service?

• Do we have a system in place for caring for the Special Needs family member while they can attend services?

• Do we offer support groups or Special Needs Family Bible studies during the week so spouses can take turns being home with the child but also make valuable church connections?

• If you live stream your services, do you have ministry teams or small groups who follow up during the week to pray, encourage, and show they are a part of what is going on even when they are not there?

• Are there events for Fathers only or Mothers only?

• Do we offer respite nights or events for Special Needs Families periodically?

• Do we have happy, welcoming, informed greeters ready at the doors who can accompany special needs families to where they need to go?

There are families in our hallways, parking lots, and on Facebook Live lingering on the fringes of church, waiting for us to pull them in and figure it out together. What can we do to bring them into the full blessing of fellowship in the church before hallways and cars no longer have appeal? We must overcome!!

Let’s see the need, and be the change!

6 thoughts on “Special Needs Surrounding the Church

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  1. I love this so much. My 13 YO ASD son & 14 YO ADHD/Aspie son served in children’s ministry with me on Easter. My ASD son was also overwhelmed and stimmed, paced, and sat by himself. I am part of a team starting a new SN ministry, but it’s been a struggle. Educating the church members comes first but it’s overwhelmed me a bit. Thank you for sharing. I’d love to email or connect with you b/c love your ideas! God bless!


  2. We attend church every week and usually manage to sit in the worship center (near the back). I bring a backpack full of sensory toys, a diet friendly snack, weighted lap pad, etc. Most Sundays we make through the whole service. Sometimes we have to get up and leave (just much son and I).
    But it is so lonely. Even surrounded by a church full of people. My son (age 10) can not attend the children’s ministry unless my husband or I go with him and stay the entire time. Since my husband works half of all Sundays, I feel like I need to go to worship. So my son goes with me to where I feel I need to be.
    While people are friendly and generally excepting, no one really makes any attempt to make us feel included. There are no small groups for special needs families and no specific ministry for us to plug into.
    And yet, we go back week after week because we all like the church and feel the Spirt of God moving there.


    1. Yes, you have hit the nail on the head!! You and i are one of those who want to figure this thing out and help the church see this need…not only in us, but in others like us who want to come and be engaged.

      What helped us where we are now was having an adult or older youth Buddy that was trained, spent time sitting with us in church so my son could get to know them, and then they became a shadow for children’s church. It should not be a rule that a parent HAS to be the one to be with the child if there is someone else who can be fully responsible (exception might be toileting if that is still an issue).

      But even if your child prefers to stay with you, i would still like to see the church reaching out to you. Maybe they are not sure how…surely it is NOT that hey don’t want to. As a special needs parent it is tough to advocate or ask for what we want at church, but if you have any friend that seems to get it, or if you talk to the children’s minister or pastor that might get the ball rolling.

      I would love to hear how this progresses for you, but i bet God has you there for a specific purpose!! ❤️❤️❤️

      Some of my earlier blogs last year talked about this Buddy ministry and i also came up with a helpful resource for talking with pastors about this need on lay week’s blog. Hope maybe this gets some wheels turning.

      Thanks for reading along and taking time to write! Very encouraging.


  3. At a local theatre company we go to, they offer a sensory sensitive showing to kids with special sensory needs (trying to pick the correct words) for one of their annual events. It took me awhile to appreciate this more fully but I think it’s a really loving, inclusive way of including people.


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