Autism and Faith

Faith communities are the cornerstones of spiritual support and often serve as a social center, bringing individuals and families together not only for worship but for fun, education, and respite. Freedom of religion is one of the foundations of our country. Being able to exercise this freedom, to have the full spiritual life that one desires is an important aspect of one’s quality of life. Individuals and families affected by autism have the same desire to worship, to be a part of a faith community, as anyone, but some may feel they are not able to actively participate in their place of worship for many reasons. Individuals and families affected by autism sometimes feel isolated and may resist attempting something new or attending functions and activities because they worry that they may not be welcomed, even at a place of worship. A congregation who celebrates all abilities offers a warm welcome to those who have grown hesitant and weary by exclusion and misunderstanding.

The Autism Society’s “Weekends in Faith Inclusion” Initiative

The Autism Society’s Inclusive Faith Initiative calls on faith communities to support individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, across the spectrum and across the lifespan. As a means to celebrate and encourage inclusive activities throughout faith communities, we ask communities to create ongoing events centered on this concept, “Weekends in Faith Inclusion” or “W.i.F.I.”

Weekends in Faith Inclusion are very simply weekends when a congregation takes on becoming more inclusive in any number of ways, big or small. It is a call to action! It is a commitment to start! For congregations already having inclusive programs, it is a weekend to celebrate these good works!

We hope these weekends are the beginnings of full inclusion all year!

Tell us about your Weekends in Faith Inclusion, your efforts toward inclusive faith services and supporting people with autism in your congregation. Let your community know that you support inclusive services for those with disabilities in your congregation! If you have established services already, please add your organization under service type, “Inclusive Faith Services” to our resource database, Autism Source, or call us and we will add your services, 800-3-AUTISM (800-328-8476)

We’d love to refer individuals and families affected by autism to you and begin networking the many faith communities supporting autism throughout the nation!

“Are you as inclusive as you could be?”

During Worship Services
• Offering autism friendly environments in places of worship
• Caring for the Caregivers*
• Making accommodations and modifications through individualized religious education programs

* Simple yet profound, so nicely phrased, “Caring for the Caregiver” comes from one of the first guides on supporting congregations to be inclusive of all those with disabilities: “That All May Worship” created by The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

And “The Other Six Days” (for a wonderful presentation see: Eric Carter’s, The Other Six Days)
• Including individuals with autism included in ministries and committees
• Reaching out to local service providers on way to support faith as part of person centered planning efforts
• Offering opportunities for volunteering to those with autism
• Offering peer mentoring programs and social skills activities
• Providing literature on autism to congregation, committees and ministries
• Reaching out to underserved communities about autism; the signs, diagnosis and early intervention
• Reaching out to disenfranchised families and individuals living with autism who have stopped attending services
• Providing referrals and support through your social service agencies for a family in crisis

Ways to be Inclusive- We would like to hear from you!

The following suggestions for inclusion are extracted from the guide, “Welcoming People with Developmental Disabilities and Their Families: A Practical Guide for Congregations” created by the Disabilities, Religion, and Spirituality Program, at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

They are listed in the order of the results of a survey conducted by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center of families in the state of Tennessee, which asked families to rate which interventions by their places of worship would be most helpful to them.

We would like to hear from the Autism Society constituents on which of these supports that they would find most helpful. Please email your thoughts to: autismfaith@autism-society.org.

1. Undertaking Congregation-wide Disability Awareness Efforts (PDF)
2. Connecting Families to Resources (PDF)
3. Facilitating or Connecting Parents to a Support Group (PDF)
4. Identifying a Congregational Advocate for Families (PDF)
5. Offering Respite Care (PDF)
6. Providing Spiritual Counseling (PDF)
7. Making Modifications in Religious Education Programs (PDF)
8. Crafting a Spiritual or Religious Education Plan (PDF)
9. Creating Personal Supports for Religious Education (PDF)
10. Designing Special Worship Services that Include People with Disabilities (PDF)
11. Arranging for Support During Worship Services (PDF)
12. Assisting Families With Financial Support (PDF)
13. Assisting With Transportation to Congregational Activities (PDF)
14. Making the Congregation More Physically Accessible (PDF)

The Autism Faith Initiative strives to:

• Increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of those affected by ASD, and their families, within their own communities of faith.
• Educate and equip communities of faith to better serve those affected by ASD through training and resources.
• Encourage communities of faith to partner with and meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals with ASD and their families.
• Honor individuals with ASD as vital contributors to a thriving community of faith through meaningful inclusion.

To receive information and RESOURCES FOR A PARTICULAR DENOMINATION or on the Autism Inclusion Initiative, or to suggest a book, website or other faith-based tool that has been helpful to you, your family or your faith community, please email us at: autismfaith@autism-society.org or call us: 800-3-AUTISM (800-328-8476).