I finally started going to church again, and quickly realized how much I had missed it, and how important it was to me, especially in this season of life. I went for several weeks in a row with my daughter, leaving my son with nonverbal ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and SPD (sensory processing disorder) at home with my husband. Why did I leave him at home with his father? I didn’t feel like he was ready, and most of all, I wasn’t ready…
I was sitting on the couch at home while my daughter, son, and niece played. My husband was gone for the weekend deer hunting with his brother. I got a text message letting me know that he wouldn’t be home until the following day sometime in the afternoon. That was fine by me. Then, suddenly, the panic hit…“Who’s going to watch Augustus so I can go to church? I really want to go.” Could I convince my sister to watch him? My dad?…I pondered…Then I got to thinking, really thinking,“Why don’t I take Augustus to church with me?” “What are the real reasons?” This led me to Mr. Google. I simply typed “taking autistic 2 year old to church” into the search bar. I read through many articles and blog posts. Many. In the past, I had read many a horror story about families being asked to leave the service because their child was too disruptive or other members of the congregation making negative comments or “suggestions”. I really wasn’t concerned about that. Anyway, back to my Google search: I came across a blog post from another mother of a child with ASD and she said something along the lines of “He deserves to be ministered to just as much as I or anyone else does.” BINGO! That hit home. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and immediately headed outside to call my mom. You see, I usually head to church with my mom, niece, and daughter. The times I felt the need to stay home with Gus if my husband was gone, my mom took my daughter to church with her. Back to the phone call: My mom answered and I instantly told her that I was probably going to cry and I didn’t even really know why, but I wanted to ask her about something. I just started out by telling her I thought Gus should be going to church because everything I learned about God when I was little was from church. And yes, I cried. My mom told me she thought the same and that she had wondered if I’d want to bring him but wanted to wait until I was ready. We talked about everything I was worried about, and I mentioned that I thought that there were probably even some congregation members that didn’t even know I had a second child. The conversation concluded with us deciding that she would come pick me and both kids up for church in the morning and that my sister and her daughter would also attend. I then had feelings of a mixture of excitement, peace in knowing I’d come to a good and right decision, and anxiety. A lot of anxiety.
Of note: I really felt like it was meant to be once I realized that this week’s sermon was to be led by the confirmation students with a pancake feed and fellowship downstairs to follow.
As I have mentioned before, I dream about Augustus almost every night. I sometimes have happy dreams of him talking (as I mentioned before he is nonverbal). Other times, I wake up in a sweat and panic after dreaming he bolted away from me and I could not find him. Let me tell you, last night that was not a problem. I couldn’t sleep. I was a ball of emotions. All kinds of emotions. I worry because he has sensory issues and is a sensory seeker. He likes to lean, feel, touch, squeeze, mouth, jump, kick, and just move almost constantly seeking that sensory input. Secondly, he is loud. He does not speak, but he vocalizes, loudly. He stims.
I worry he will pull someone’s hair in the pew ahead of us. I worry he will disrupt the sermon or make it difficult for someone to hear. I worry he will have a meltdown due to sensory issues or frustration. I worry he will escape my hold and run around the church. I worry we will distract others from the sermon and message. I worry…and worry…and worry.
The moment I had the night before led me to realize that none of that really matters. Seriously, I might as well get used to getting stared at or scoffed at anyway as we are out in public and once he starts school. People are cruel, quick to judge, and just don’t understand. Fortunately, I knew deep down in my heart, that I had nothing to worry about at my church. Yes, maybe a curious child will glance at us, but no one is going to be upset by his vocalizing (as long as it’s not excessive) and I will and can always walk him out in the case of a meltdown or sensory issue.
He Went to Church
By God, my son went to church and was wholly welcomed and accepted, as I knew he would be, and as all should be at church. It’s sad that we do live in a world where it is possible to receive judgement from those at church. It’s a sad reality. Thankfully, here in my small town, this is not an issue. Amen! How did it go you ask? It went as well as I can expect. I fully admit that I was a ball of anxiety the whole time, and I’m sure Augustus could feel that, which doesn’t help. I will get better as time goes on and it becomes more routine for him and myself. Yes, he did vocalize and move around a lot. I decided to let my mom take him up for the Children’s Sermon. He did try to grab the microphone from the speaker and grab her book. He did vocalize. He did wiggle around. But guess what? That’s what he does. He did just fine. I sat there watching, sweating, worrying, praying. He did just fine.
Right before the Children’s Sermon, the congregation was asked to take a moment to greet one another. A kind woman (and neighbor in fact) came to greet us and asked “Amanda, how many children do you have?” I replied “Just these two.” She then asked “How old is he?” I replied “He is two, and Ada is three.” Then she stated “Well I’m glad you’re all here.” I thought this was very kind and also funny because remember what I mentioned before? Telling my mom that I was sure some people didn’t even know I had two kids. Plus,the woman inquiring is a neighbor. I was right.
I held Augustus much of the sermon and put him down on the ground when I could tell he had the need to jump for a minute, which I do not feel was disruptive to anyone. After a while, Grandma held Gus, and it was cute to see that he liked to rest his head against her mouth during hymns. He liked to listen and feel. That goes back to his sensory needs. There was also piano and guitar accompaniment at today’s service. Augustus loved that. He loves music, and especially loves guitars. The sermon today just happened to be about bullying and our branch of churches keeping children safe and making everyone feel welcome. It was meant to be. I have to admit, overwhelmed with emotion during the sermon, I had a few tears. I can’t really even tell you why for sure. I suppose because I was just relating and feeling the sermon. Probably feeling guilty for keeping him from church before. It was overall a good experience and one I am proud to say I made it through. This was all on me, not him. He is who he is. I’m the one that was seeming to have an issue with that. But, that is no more. He’s my Gus. My favorite guy.
The icing on the cake was when I was holding Gus after the service was over and a female member of the congregation walked up and took Gus’ little hand and said “You did so good today!” I said “Yes. Today is the first time he’s been to church since he was in a child carrier.” After that Augustus vocalized and flapped his arms looking at this lady happily, and she said “And we don’t mind that one bit!” (Referring to his vocalizing and stimming.) I have to say, while I was glad to have gone through the whole service unscathed other than by my own emotions and worry, that comment touched my heart.
I decided not to stay for the pancakes and fellowship downstairs. I was emotionally drained and decided it best to take one thing at a time. Also, Gus has some feeding issues, too. Not that I am embarrassed by them, just that it is a lot of work to feed him and I was drained.
He was ready to attend church all along. I wasn’t ready for him to. It was a sin to keep him from church, and I have asked for forgiveness, and will be forgiven. I thought I had the best of intentions, but in reality what’s best is him being at church.
Thank God for helping me realize how important it is for both of my children to attend church services and worship with others and be ministered to. Thank God for my church, my pastor, and the congregation. Thank God for my supportive family and friends. We will see you in church next week!