Tag Archives: worship

Autism and Christmas

 

On Christmas Morning, AJ woke up at 6:45 a.m. (he came into our room at some point after midnight). I said, “Merry Christmas! It’s Christmas Day!” He dove under the blankets, and I got up, poured myself a cup of coffee, and delighted in the joy of Christmas with my spouse.

At 7:15 a.m., AJ finally got out of bed, and ran into the living room, super excited. Christmas has come! He sat down on the chair next to our tree, a big smile on his face. We pulled down his stocking and spent the next twenty minutes trying to get him to open it, and he opened the first present from his stocking—a small “pin impression” box—where the pins mold to the shape of your hand or whatever you have it on. AJ had one for Christmas two years ago but managed to break most of the pins (the small cheap ones are plastic, as was this one). He loved it. He pressed it against his hand over and over again.

Then he went to his room, and shut the door.

AJ absolutely loves Christmas—he is the reason we get the tree right after Thanksgiving, which we never used to do. He loves the lights, the songs, the Christmas specials (this year, How The Grinch Stole Christmas was his most requested movie). But when it comes to Christmas Day, it is often overwhelming. Too much.

We’ve scaled back Christmas presents. We figured three gifts were good enough for the baby Jesus, three ought to be good enough for AJ. Plus, grandmothers always buy more.

Still, it is overwhelming. This is the day he has been waiting for and he doesn’t want it to be over. Lucky for him, we have learned to practice the tradition of Twelve Days of Christmas, so if he doesn’t open them on Christmas Day, that is okay. He opened most on Christmas Day, the last around eight p.m. He opened one more today, and seemed okay with the prospect of only having to open one gift. It also means that the Christmas carols and movies in our house last a little longer, so that by the time Christmas comes to a close, he is ready to move on.

This year, with Christmas Day on a Sunday, we added in worship services. At my congregation, we did a “Cocoa and Carols” service and encouraged children to come in their pajamas. AJ loved this aspect, and that he could have a candy cane during worship. Also, due to the relaxed nature of the service and the smaller attendance, he could move about more easily. He enjoyed the service and it, once again, took away the pressure of having to open presents.

Most children with autism I know love Christmas, to the point that one parent I know struggles every time it snows (they live in Colorado) because their child is ready to celebrate Christmas again. AJ seems fine with it coming once a year. But the holiday season can become a demand on people with autism—the traditions, the social interactions, the need to open presents and react at what people have given them.

For us, Christmastide has become a blessing, to turn the day into twelve, to have a season to celebrate, and to create our own traditions as a family with two members on the spectrum.

To you and yours, Happy Holidays!AJ and Christmas.jpg

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(Un)Resolved

This is a piece I wrote for Edge Pieces, the blog of Open Gathering. Open Gathering is a church started by my husband, J.C., (and I am now on staff there as well) that is open to all people but especially children and adults with disabilities and their families. The vision really began as a dream for our son, a church in which he would be free to worship as he is, and at the same time introducing the Christian story and worship experience to him and others, including neurotypical children and adults as well as people of all abilities.  To learn a little about our church, you can visit our website, and you can click on this article I wrote for the UncoSynchro blog theme for January.

http://opengathering.org/unresolved/

Sunday mornings

On Sundays, AJ mainly comes with me to church since we live in the parsonage next door, and my husband has to commute over a half-hour away. We are a small but growing church, and as we get more families with children, I keep wondering if we will have a Sunday School class again for children, but it appears that may be a thing of the past. Most of the other parents don’t feel their kids can sit through two hours of church and education (or they don’t want to necessarily come for that long themselves). So AJ comes to my Adult Sunday School class, which is in a conference room right next to my office.

We have had ups and downs. Times when AJ has sat quietly on the floor playing with some of his old toys I store in my office, stacking blocks up and knocking them down, and times when AJ has had a full on meltdown because he did not want to come to church. Then there was the time, on the first Sunday of Advent, when I had AJ sit in my office for just three minutes while I reviewed my sermon; in those three minutes, AJ found a soft wax purple candle and got it on everything–in the carpet, in the upholstery of one of my office chairs, and all over his clothes and face and in his hair. So I had to quickly lock my office, leaving everything there, and let people know who were just walking up the ramp to the office that I was cancelling Sunday School to take my child home and give him a bath. Again, I’m thankful we live next door.

As worship begins, AJ starts out in the front of the sanctuary with me. Sometimes he will sit on the front pew with me, but more often than not he is running all over the place–up and down the aisle, on the chancel, even on the pews. I try to get him to sit down, but he won’t. Once worship begins, after the introit and the announcements, a church member comes up to get him and take him to the back of the sanctuary for the rest of the service (the only reason she doesn’t do it earlier is she drives some of our elderly members and has to get them situated before she can collect AJ). There have been a few times that AJ has sat in the pew up front, or chosen another pew to sit in, but most of the time he roams around in the back of the sanctuary during worship.

Children’s Church has mainly seen AJ running back and forth in fellowship hall while the Children’s Church teacher tries to have a quick lesson with the other students, but it can be difficult. Some days AJ cannot sit still at all. Then, before the end of service, the children (who are only out of the service for the sermon time) come up for the final hymn, and there are days AJ refuses to come back up the stairs. Being 70 lbs now, he can no longer be carried.

Just a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law moved in with us. The plan is that AJ can now stay home through Sunday School and I can get him before worship. We’ve tried it once, and he was very wired for worship and could not sit still, so we will try again this Sunday and see how he does. However, last Sunday I took the day off and we visited my husband’s church. And except for some initial running up front and some sliding across the floor on his back, he sat for most of the worship service on my lap. We were singing Christmas Carols, which are his favorite, but for the most part, he sat and listened–and even tried to sing a few times.

There have been plenty of times I have been distracted while leading worship because of my son. A few times I’ve lost track of my sermon. But my son has a right to be in worship. He is not going to learn how to be in worship if he is kept out. But more importantly, whether he learns to sit through worship or not, he needs to know he is loved by his congregation. He needs to know that no matter what, he is a part of this church family and a child of God. And for that, it is worth all of the distractions he may create.