Making church autism friendly

  1. Provide small group settings so that people don’t feel overwhelmed – both within church services (e.g. at prayer gatherings or events) and mid-week, (home groups, socials etc).
  2. Give events as much structure as possible, (unstructured social time is especially stressful for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, (ASD))
  3. Let people know in advance (website/service sheets/notice-board) what to expect from services (including communion), and events.  This helps to provide a sense of safety and minimises the stress of the unknown. Service leaders should also explain what is happening in a simple and friendly way.
  4. Fix any flashing lights or intermittent noises (sound systems etc) and keep speakers to a minimum level of noise. Have a room that is quiet, dimly lit and free from distractions or patterns. Try to provide paths (e.g. to communion), that don’t involve walking past musicians.
  5. Train church members in dealing with ASD – both those working with adults and children, (e.g. in Sunday school teams).  Have places where children (and adults) who are struggling can go and be quiet and don’t condemn parents/carers if their children are acting out, (for example, shouting or ‘swimming – doing repetitive movements like rocking (“stimming”), to help them get a sense of where they are)
  6. Have simple take away points from each sermon (ideally with clear outlines and applications).
  7. Don’t assume that someone is being rude because they’re withdrawn, unable to make eye-contact or finding it difficult to socialise.
  8. Where possible, provide simple service sheets with all the necessary info on one piece of paper, (not lots of different books to hold/look up)
  9. Make sure the building is clearly signposted, including toilets, carparks, exits and coffee. Have maps as well as descriptions for those who find reading more difficult.  Make sure welcomers are familiar with ASD and have someone available who can act as a point of contact for those who need help.
  10. Be clear and factual when preaching – if you’re using metaphors or sayings or humour, make sure you explain it! Use simple illustrations without too much movement or noise. Where possible, provide breaks from sensory input, (at Sunday school too).

For those with experience, what would you add?


Helpful links:

National Autistic Society: Guide to attending worship

Churches for all

Guide for churches


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12 thoughts on “Making church autism friendly

  1. Emma,
    Very helpful, thank you. For our daughter number 8 is key. It helps her know where we’re at in the meeting and what’s coming up. The unknown causes significant anxiety.

  2. The issue I have is with my son (age 12) feeling able to actually attend church in the first place. There are quiet places he can go, but for him it’s about preferring to be in his online world at home. I struggle to think of any strategies to help him engage with church when he doesn’t want to join in with youth activities or be in the main congregation.

  3. Great article Emma!
    Just a little thing though… rocking and such is called ‘stimming’ not swimming.
    Maybe this is a miss print?
    Trish. Xx

  4. The is a topic that I have been thinking about and how my church can be more aware. I think this is a great list. I think one of the things that I would add is teaching others how to interact. I am not an ASD mum but the mother of a Down Syndrome child. To her everyone is her friend and yet at church I see children ignore her and walk right past her. She thinks they are her friend. So teaching and modelling this to our children is important. How do we include and love on those with special needs.

  5. Thanks Beth – yes, that’s really important. Maybe a future post? Is it something you’d be interested in writing about?

  6. Thanks for this! As someone with ASD, I would also add that post-service socialising is one of the hardest parts of church for most autistic people. It helps to have quiet spaces to interact in after a service, perhaps one on one. Also, as with everyone, it helps to keep an eye out for those who have withdrawn and to seek them out.
    Having a definite structure to morning services is definitely useful, as well as keeping it roughly the same. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of autistic people quite like, “Today we’re going to try something slightly different…”

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