I have always gone to church. In fact I was raised in the church. My family went to church every Sunday. Of course when MJ was born, I figured that I would be taking him to church as well. Before MJ’s diagnosis, I could only stay in the church service for about 30 minutes. He was a LOUD baby/toddler and after the worship music was played he would be extremely loud to the point that everyone would be looking at me. While in Georgia, I used the daycare at the church when I could. It was very difficult because he would cry at the top of his lungs when I would leave him. Many times I would be called from the daycare to come and get him (sigh). After MJ’s diagnosis we were a part of a different church. I remember talking with the lead director of the children’s church. I was so pleased to know that she too had a special needs son and understood “the struggle”. So the next Sunday I took MJ to the children’s church. After about 30 minutes I was called out to go back to the children’s church. When I got there the director (the same woman I spoke with) told me that MJ was turning the lights off and on and wouldn’t stop. I looked at her strangely and said “was he doing anything else”; Did you give him the toys in the bag to distract him?” I looked at my little boy, gave him a toy and walked out of that church. I NEVER WENT BACK. If a special needs mom couldn’t handle that simple scenario then I was not interested in returning. I decided that until MJ was ready to go, I would simply have to have church at home. Thank goodness for television programs and being able to go to church online. That is what I had to do from the time he was three until he turned nine years old. When I made that decision I had a few people who did not agree and actually made negative remarks about it. I had to think to myself, “they love me and wouldn’t purposely hurt me by saying these things”. Those people were obviously ignorant to the fact that MJ was unable to sit still in a church service. He would be a mixture of the Roadrunner and a music concert…Fast and Loud! I’m not talking about a few loud moments. I am talking about the fact that MJ would yell out consistently and be disruptive throughout the service. I was completely unable to concentrate and listen to anything that was going on. Instead of leaving happy and spiritually full, I would leave tired and upset. When we moved to Florida a few years ago we began going to a new church. I was so happy to hear that they had a children’s church. I prayed and prayed and prayed and tried to prepare MJ for that fact that he was going to church. I spoke to him about it, showed him pictures, and even read a bible story with him. It helped that my daughter was excited about it. When I took him, I explained that he has autism to a few people and let them know that I would be sitting in the back of the church in the event that they needed to come and get me. I dropped them off and they looked happy. As I sat down in church I found myself looking back every 10 minutes expecting someone to come and get me…30 minutes went by…Then 60 minutes went by…90 minutes went by and I looked up, smiled, and thanked God. When I returned to get them, MJ was excited to show me what he did in children’s church. I asked him if he enjoyed himself and he said, “yes mommy”. It was a great feeling to know that he was finally able to attend church again. I attend church with MJ as much as I can. I don’t go when I know service will be longer and I very rarely go when there is no children’s church. I really am against him sitting in service for two hours when he can’t understand the sermon and is literally in pain because of how loud everything is (even with ear plugs). I do my best to teach him what I can and infuse our beliefs into his everyday life. My hope is that more churches have special needs programs for kids on Sundays or at least have caring and knowledgeable individuals that can accommodate more special needs kids.
MJ’s picture done at church today. That is supposed to be him playing basketball:-)