There is a plea offered by a growing number of parents for others to be more understanding and show greater acceptance of their child who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental condition that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. Often these individuals have a restricted interest and/or have repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” refers to the degree in which the symptoms, behaviors, and severity vary within and between individuals. Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.
A mother wrote to us out of exasperation when the school her teenage daughter was attending insisted that the child withdraw from school or else she would be expelled. It seems the girl needed more support than they were able to provide. The mother and the teenager want her “to be her best for God.” They had hoped she would be able to attend a Christian school.
It wasn’t rebelliousness that caused the problem. It was a developmental challenge that made social interaction with other students and staff awkward and difficult. Mother and daughter contacted Adventist Possibility Ministries to see if we could help them find a Christian school where the student would be understood and accepted. This is becoming a growing concern among a growing number of parents.
Data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2016, published in 2020, indicate that in the United States 1 in every 54 (1.9 percent) 8-year-old children were identified as having ASD.¹ Our own church organizations are beginning to recognize the need for understanding and acceptance of children with ASD.
While there is a debate as to whether autism is a true epidemic,² there is a growing need for greater awareness as to how it is expressed in the behavior of children in the classroom and on the playground. This conversation calls for an understanding not only of the child but also of the challenges faced by caregivers and the support they themselves need.
There are ways of helping these children. A number of Adventist churches and conferences are beginning to address the challenge with online and, when possible, in-person seminars and panel discussions.³ The appreciation shown suggests that the needs have existed for some time. Unintentionally, students and parents are often left with feelings of aloneness, even of being shunned by others. Several helpful resources may be found at the Adventist Possibility Ministries website, https://www.possibilityministries.org/autism-related-links.
To paraphrase a well-known proverb, let’s “seek first to understand, then create a sense of belonging for the ASD child rather than expressing annoyance or disapproval.”
Larry R. Evans directs Adventist Possibility Ministries of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, in the United States.