Autism is a brain design difference. It can affect anyone of any age, background and IQ. Some parts of the brain are super-connected; other parts of the brain are missing some of the automatic ‘people-understanding sections’
The super-connected parts are often linked to the senses. People with autism often have difficulty filtering sensory information. The brain tries to see, hear and sense too much detail, and gets overwhelmed and exhausted.
In most places of worship there’s a lot of sensory information – sound, movement, smells, taste, symbols, handshakes and hugs. It takes courage for a person with autism to face that. Here's some simple things that churches can do to help.
Ask Us What May Help
Our brains take in too much detail. Our brain ‘wiring’ can literally overheat as it tries to handle too much input at once. We try very hard to avoid an overload of sensory or social situations. It’s not us being awkward; it’s a physical brain difference.
Check faulty lights, avoid fluorescent bulbs; they can make people feel ill. Keep noise levels as low as possible, considering amplified voices and the hand driers in the toilet.
Say What You Mean
We tend to be very literal, and may think in pictures, not words. Metaphors and illustrations are valuable to most people, but please take care also to say directly what you mean.
Clear instructions on the order of service, eg where to sit, when to stand and sit, what to say at each point, help us feel we can manage our expectations. Either write it down, or get someone to quietly tell us what to do.
Someone Who Cares
Identify someone trustworthy and calm who can offer a bit of extra help if it’s needed.
Socialising in a crowd may be exhausting. We may not read body language well, and may not communicate with eye-contact, for example. Yet research shows that it’s non-autistic people who, due to misunderstanding and myths, tend to refuse our offers of friendship.
Information such as the layout of the building, pictures on a website, can help minimise surprises and the amount of information a new person has to absorb on a first visit.
A Place To Retreat
Make a quiet room or a space available where we can step back from activities for a few minutes, and rest.