Ann Memmott - Church Access Consultant Links
What is Autism?
Autism is a brain design difference. It can affect anyone of any age, background and IQ. Some parts of the brain are super-connected. Other parts of the brain are missing some of the automatic "people-understanding sections". It also used to be called "Asperger syndrome", but now most professionals just call it autism.
It is not a mental health condition. It has no more link to antisocial behaviour than anyone else would have. Some also have a learning difficulty or other disabilities as well as autism. It can be seen from the earliest age and is a lifelong condition. Autistic individuals are often loyal, honest, careful, wonderful friends and great seekers of social justice. All bring friendship and love to any church and group.
Many autistic people are fantastic specialists. I know of excellent church leaders, Church Wardens, organists, treasurers, website designers and so many others who are autistic and already bringing those gifts to our churches and groups. Many may be nervous of telling you that they have a diagnosis of autism, as they are not sure how you will react.
Autistic people cannot see or use body language, eye contact or tone of voice very well, so may appear to be rude when they are not meaning to be. Explaining how you're feeling will help. Asking what will help us is important, if it's done quietly and respectfully.
They may also struggle to understand and use complicated social language and metaphors. Making sure you've explained strange expressions helps a lot.
All will have a disability-related need to know what's going to happen during an event or service, so advance information and accurate timing is vital.
Most will also have sensory processing differences because of that specialist brain design; it tries to see, hear and sense too much detail, and gets overwhelmed and exhausted. Leaving space for quiet recovery can be really important. Watch http://vimeo.com/52193530 which is a fantastic two minute video on autism sensory difficulties. It needs sound.
Imagine what it's like in a busy, noisy church setting for young people or adults with autism. It takes courage to face that. We do so because autistic people want to be your friends and worship alongside you as fellow Christians, and learn about our lovely God, Jesus and the Bible. Anything churches and groups can do to lessen that sensory-pain, and explain things clearly, will help a lot. It also helps everyone else in the church, and the adjustments are very low-cost.
Not sure what to do? That's where this website and a bit of specialist assistance and advice can help your church. Don't hesitate to get in touch.