With the growing number of Autistic children born every year what issues will student ministries face in 5 years? April is the national push for Autism awareness. I've watched a few TV specials on this topic but was really taken back at a regional conference I got to mingle at in Atlanta.
The Facts: In 1995 one in 10,000 children born was diagnosed with Autism.
In 2006 one in 150 children born are diagnosed with some degree of autism.
see Autism Society of America
It did not happen to me. All three of our boys are healthy and developing normal as far as we know. There were not lots of parents with my blissful story at this gathering. Teresa told me her own heartbreaking story of caring for a jr high aged child with mild to severe autism. Teresa is a Christian with a mission field she never sought out. "Its like receiving a death notice for a loved one but the grieving process never ends.". Teresa has coped through much pain to see the opportunity God has given her to now be a comfort to others.
As I walked the halls listening into informational meetings, seeing treatment vendors, and thumbing through the books on display I caught the eyes of individuals. I saw the parents that recently found out their unborn child is autistic. I noticed the women who have been coming to these events for so long they had become a loving community to each other. I sensed despair on one hand and hope on the other. What I really saw was parents, siblings, and ordinary people deciding to enjoy life to the fullest potential they can.
I am a jr high minister. I am clearly not highly educated in the medical field of this affliction. I am however, like my new friend Teresa, finding myself asking how the Church factors in to all of this. The event was not a faith based event. I did however find it interesting that a senior staff pastor from North Point (a prominent church in Atlanta) was a key note speaker at the event. Teresa went on to explain to me that many of the new parents have quit attending their home churches after finding that the church had no way of knowing how to meet their needs. The guilt and eventual resentment felt towards the church is disturbing.
The church is changing and growing at a crazy speed. Large churches with specialized staff continue to abound. Emerging churches with tight knit communities of fellowship seem to be just as able to meet the ministry needs of families with autistic children. It seems that Chap Clark’s call to the church, for adults relationally investing in students, rings ever so true.