Friday, April 9, 2010

Church is Bad for Autistics

I've been going with my mother to church for quite some time now. However, I really don't seem to be getting in "the jive" of it. Unlike my mother, who is "on fire" for the Lord, I guess I could say that I'm agnostic, at best. However, I go to church, and I'm not talking about just the once-a-week-on-Sunday-morning church either. I go on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and Friday evenings. Thankfully, on Friday, I am in the back, working a sound board, and I am left alone for the most part.

Why is church bad for Autistics? There are a number of reasons, well, there are for me.

  • People... strangers... who you don't even know... come up and touch you. I have two prime examples of this. The first, and most distressing one for me, is when people "lay hands" on you. It's one thing to have a close friend touch you on your arm, but when two or more people are touching you all over your body, it freaks me out. The second example of this was last Wednesday night. My mother told the church that I was autistic and didn't like to be touched by strangers. However, my mother's group leader, someone who I didn't know, came up and hugged me from behind when I was sitting, taking biology notes, and "in my zone". I about wanted to reach back and punch the daylights out of the potential predator, but my morals told me to resist temptations.
  • People smell funny. This may not seem like a big issue for most neurotypical people, but for me, it can arouse anxiety. On Easter weekend, I was at Sunday morning church, and I sat where I always sit, back in the upper booth corner, where I copy my biology notes (which is my "polite" way of saying "leave me alone, I don't want to be touched or talked to). It was a full house, so instead of me being alone up there, people had to sit next to me. The couple who sat next to me looked like they were straight out of a 1970's used car commercial, with the husband being the used car dealer. However, he smelled heavily of new carpet. Furthermore, they didn't take Communion, give an offering, or do anything that the church asked them to do. So, I have no clue why they even came to the congregation... maybe it was just to irk me. Upon telling my mother about this, she had quite a laughing fit, and didn't sympathize with me. The same goes for one of my church leaders.
  • Emotional gauge overload, to put it lightly. When people go up and get prayed for, they start crying, when they were perfectly happy a second ago. They don't look like they were crying out of joy, or even sadness for that matter. As an autistic, I have difficultly gauging people's emotions, so to see this put me in overdrive, and therefore stressed me out and gave me anxiety. This was also the same night that strangers had laid hands on me.


  1. Sara, this is an AWESOME post!!! Churches are miles & miles behind the larger society in dealing with autism or any other special need for that matter. Posts like yours display that many small, but respectful changes need to be made to accommodate those who DO want to participate in the faith community.

    As a leader in national disability ministry, I think there needs to be far more dialogue in this area. Mind if I share your post with those operating in my same arena? I think they could learn much from it! Thanks for your transparency!!!

  2. Thank you so much for this!! My daughter is 4 with autism and as much as she LOVES going to our church, she hates it as well. Too much and totally overstimulates her. I can totally understand your concerns on this from seeing how my daughter is at church. It took over a year before she was able to actually function somewhat normal there. We had to stop going for awhile because it got too much for her. We have started going back but taking it easy.

  3. thanks for sharing!

  4. Barb, of course not! I'd love to have a lot of feedback on my blog!

    Heather, I've only been going to church for about a year now, and I still have anxiety over it.

  5. Sara,

    Do you still check on this blog? I've recently become acquainted to and will soon be doing ABA with a sweet little girl who has Autism. I've been researching as much as possible since being asked to work with her. Your blog is great, and I THANK YOU sincerely for your transparency and efforts.