Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

It’s SO Wrong!


Today I was enraged.…I don’t often feel angry, furious, cross, mad, outraged, annoyed, irritated, infuriated, incensed, indignant, irate, incandescent, irascible, piqued or hot under the collar. I’m usually so calm….

But today I was talking to a fellow professional who told me about a family she worked with who had been asked to leave their church because of the disrupting behaviour of their autistic son….

My first response was to think…surely not? I asked questions, I needed to clarify, to check this second-hand information was really what had happened…and yes, the person had supported the family through that time, she was adamant.  They were devastated.

So am I.

I am a person who always tries to see every side of the situation or issue. I am the lone voice sometimes offering a perspective on the actions of others, sticking up for both sides to find common ground, offering advice to restore relationships.

I TRIED to reason what might have made a church do this to a family with a child with special needs.


But for once I failed.

I am devastated for this family who had to leave their community and network of friends and fellow believers. They were cast out, leaving them wounded and confused.

Why would a church do this? 

In my kindest moment I imagine they might have felt overwhelmed, not knowing how to meet this family’s needs. I imagine they might have exchanged cross words and fallen out?

I feel hurt, upset, enraged because as much as I love Jesus, as his church we sometimes don’t really reflect his grace to each other.  If I thought this really was an isolated event then perhaps I could explain it away and carry on just looking for the good churches who are trying to include and support those with additional needs. I am glad they are there…but I am worried there are other families and individuals with additional needs out there who have been thrown out, ostracised or made to feel that they don’t belong in church.  Made to feel unwelcome because they don’t conform, sit quietly and have needs that challenge us all to change.  How can we be brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s family,  when this happens?

Over to you:

I am scared of asking….but do you know of these things happening too?

P.S.  I am glad to report that the family have found a new and welcoming church. I pray for their hurts to be healed and for them to be restored.


Comments on: "It’s SO Wrong!" (11)

  1. I have a friend with a ‘special needs’ 3yr old who was asked to leave a family service as he was being disruptive. She was heartbroken and got a pastor friend to write to ‘the family church who doesn’t like families!’
    It was a brilliant piece of writing but the hurt lives on. Churches have a lot to answer for sometimes.


  2. Oh that is heartbreaking and makes me very angry. Glad you’re speaking up. x


  3. I think we need to be a little careful here.

    Let me state where I start from. My name is Andrew Mackie and I work part time for Prospects. I spend a considerable amount of my working life encouraging churches to make changes so that their Sunday morning services are as accessible as possible to people with learning disabilities. I absolutely believe that it is the local church’s job to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone, including those with additional needs. I am also a part-time minister of a local church.

    With my Prospects hat on I am currently working with a church where it has broken their heart to have to say to an adult with learning disabilities after many years “will you please leave the service while the sermon is on”. The issue is that the person’s behaviour has changed. He has always made noises, but recently he has started with great frequency to scream out in what sounds like unbearable pain. The effect of this change is that the remainder of the congregation is unable to hear what is said by the preacher.

    My heart bleeds for that church. They have over many years gone to immense lengths to adapt what it does so that its services can be accessed by this individual. My heart also bleeds for the individual and their family. What the church is now doing is exploring with the individual and the family how to provide the best one to one meaningful spiritual communication they can while the individual is “apart”.

    A real pastoral problem for any church’s leadership team is how to fulfil the church’s mission to the many and to those who have additional needs – wherever possible together, but I think that there are situations where the church has to say “apart”. The challenges to the church are not to say “apart” unnecessarily, to communicate the need for “apart” in as sensitive and loving a way as they can, and to regard the “apart” person as someone who has the same spiritual needs while “apart” as the rest of the congregation has “together”, and to take action to try to meet these needs.

    I do recognise that it is really hard for the person with additional needs and their family and friends to hear the “apart” message. But please, hear the message which is being communicated. If it really is “get out” then that is something of which the church needs to repent; if it is “we need to do something different for this individual”, please work with the local church to provide the best we can for that individual for the season that it has to be like that.

    Please note that the views expressed above are my own.


    • Thank you Andrew – you make some really good points. I posted this because I wanted to learn what happens in different places and try to see all sides of the situations. I’m really glad for the work you do!


  4. Thanks for this. You have the heart for intercessory prayer. Could you describe what the Godly approach would be. Many churches have a separate children’s session. What do you think about that?


    • I don’t have all the answers. All of us are God’s family, the body of Christ and sometimes we have to work together to make that work in the best way it can. Jesus doesn’t tell us it will be easy. I think different groups can be an answer but also working towards making every part of the body as inclusive as it can be. Having a varied programme means that there ishsomewhere where everyone can find a place where they feel most comfortable, perhaps?


  5. Sadly there are case like this that still occur. We must all learn to speak out when we see injustices, being sure that we pepper all that we say and do ourselves with grace and love.


  6. Michael Rowe. said:

    It’s always salutary to hear of extreme cases like this. I sympathise with both sides. I’m afraid that, as I have both tinnitus and hyperacusis, I would not be able remain in the same room as someone making that sort of noise : it’s just too painful. The essential is that, although exclusion from that part of the service is evidently necessary, it must be done with love.


    • I posted this Michael to see if this is an extreme case or if the issue or more prevalent than we imagine. It is very difficult to meet everyone’s needs (in fact only Christ himself can do that), but it’s HOW things are done that can make all the difference. It is good to see people focussing on love and grace.


  7. Gosh this is food for thought isn’t it I gasped in I can’t believe a church would say leave due to a child’s needs. I can totally see the situation where a church simply can not/ does not accommodate their needs due to lack of experience or fear. I also understand in an effort to meet the needs of the many it is sometimes difficult to accommodate the few! And it does indeed need courage, confidence, and discernment in how to sensitively address everyones needs. The unfortunate thing is that if a family is asked to leave due to their individual needs what does that say about the character of Jesus as we are his reflection on earth, and it makes me feel sick for this family. It would be only due to ignorance that this situation would occur surely, I would hate to think it had anything to do with people messing up their nice church. The very fact is that Jesus laid a foundation for “messy” churches not the nice museums that so often occur now!! Oh how my heart breaks, the church has a great responsibility!


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