Why is going to church difficult?
Going to church can create challenges for ASD children. They may feel bored, and they may not understand the significance of all that is occurring. They may want your attention or the attention of a sibling, and may have developed some bad habits of how to get it! They may be tired, or hungry, and they may be eager to get home to do the things that are on their agenda for the day.
Cover the basics
Start with trying to ensure that your child is rested and fed before church. That means keeping to a good bedtime on the night before church, and getting them up early enough so they can eat before they leave. It can be a helpful tradition for the family to always eat filling breakfast together before church, even if it means the parents themselves have to get up early enough to accomplish that!
Decide ahead of time if you will allow your child to participate in any quiet activity during church. Some parents allow for a small pad of paper to draw on, or the use of a small toy or fidget. Others would not feel comfortable with this kind of distraction and want their child to learn to be reverent and attentive during church.
Explain and give a special job
Over time, make sure to educate your child, using child friendly language, about the meaning of what is occurring. Provide them with signposts about special points in the service that they can anticipate, and special jobs they might look forward to performing (such as putting money in a collection basket).
If you have a child with special needs and other children without special needs who might handle the service differently, you could see if there are any church members who could assist you with your special needs child. There may be someone that would be happy to join you to provide some 1:1 coaching for your special needs child during the service. If you don’t know who to ask, clergy or other leaders can often assist you in this.
Teach your child what to do instead
Church services are a good time for you as the parent to focus on coaching your child on what you do want them to do, instead of telling them to stop a behavior you don’t want them to do. For instance tell your child to “keep your hands and feet to yourself” instead of “stop poking your sister”, or “stay sitting in your seat” instead of “stop laying down in the pew.” Try to use certain key phrases, so that over time your child is learning your expectations for behavior.
Try my app!
If you want some help with setting up behavior goals and a reward plan for your child for attending church and other activities, and you have an Android phone, try out my app Let’s Go! Plus.
Question: What are some strategies that you have found helpful when bringing your child to a church service?