Pursuing Passionate and Compassionate Love

A Review of “Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder” (2nd edition) by Barbara J. Newman
Published by Friendship Ministries

This 2011 revision of the original 2006 manual concludes with a call and a challenge by Pastor Jared Henderson to form inclusive worship communities by providing passionate, unconditional love to person with special needs, pursuing those who may need such environments, and to show compassion in order to “be willing to get close.” (p.91). With her fine mix of rationale based on scripture along with an extensive array of practical suggestions to faith communities attempting to meet the spiritual needs of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders and related disabilities, Ms. Newman accomplishes this in fine fashion. Although the publication is Christian in orientation, the suggestions could be easily integrated into any organized faith community interested in reaching out to persons with ASD and other special needs.

A Review of “Autism and Your Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder” (2nd edition) by Barbara J. Newman
Published by Friendship Ministries

This 2011 revision of the original 2006 manual concludes with a call and a challenge by Pastor Jared Henderson to form inclusive worship communities by providing passionate, unconditional love to person with special needs, pursuing those who may need such environments, and to show compassion in order to “be willing to get close.” (p.91). With her fine mix of rationale based on scripture along with an extensive array of practical suggestions to faith communities attempting to meet the spiritual needs of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders and related disabilities, Ms. Newman accomplishes this in fine fashion. Although the publication is Christian in orientation, the suggestions could be easily integrated into any organized faith community interested in reaching out to persons with ASD and other special needs.

The revision is strengthened by a shift to a functional approach to describing the various sub-types of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Section 2 as well as a more extensive look at dealing with difficult behaviors in Section 4. As she cautions the reader early, this book is not appropriate for diagnosing any ASD-related disability and is “not necessarily a book for those well versed in special education or psychology.” (p.12). (I would respectfully disagree with her on this second point. I am considered to be “highly edumacated” in the field and found this work extremely informative!)

Along with Sections 2 and 4, Sections 1 (God’s Handiwork), 3 (Ten Strategies), and 5 (An Action Plan) knit together, to use one of her favorite analogies, an excellent combination of insights, encouragements, and practical suggestions develop meaningful religious worship and education opportunities. The suggestions, particularly in Section 3, would work very well for persons with any sort of disability that impeded understanding and/or communication, which are virtually the two most universal challenges facing special needs populations. I would echo her recommendation that persons trying these ideas do so in a menu type fashion, trying out a few of them and using those that produce the most positive outcomes.

The manual also includes a fine array of reproducible resources to assist support teams. I would suggest that any future revisions include reproducible picture cards illustrating various aspects of worship (p. 35) as well as the Sample Church Inclusion Plan (p. 92). There is an erratum on page 111 illustrating how to prepare persons for changes in programming but that could easily be rectified by parties adapting the materials for their own needs.

A Spanish version of this guide, being prepared by a woman who, coincidentally, has a special needs child, will be available in early 2013 under the title “El autismo en la Iglesia”. Interested persons should visit the Friendship Ministries website for more information when it is published. Last March I reviewed Erik W. Carter’s 2007 text, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities. Barb’s manual, notwithstanding its fine stand alone qualities, would be a wonderful “advance organizer” and supplement for interested parties wishing to explore the possibilities examined more extensively in Erik’s text. Please feel free to contact me anytime should you have materials you would wish me to review!

Don Healy

DE-Healy@wiu.edu

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