I just read a post called “Church Rejection” and remembered something that happened a few years ago to my brother, Chris, who has Asperger’s.
We were at VBS (Vacation Bible School, a little week-long summer church activity session for kids, where they play games and learn about God and Jesus) for the week, and I believe I was helping lead the younger kids’ groups. It was Chris’s last year at VBS before he’d be too old to stick around with his age group and after that would have to either stay home or volunteer.
My mother got a call from one of the youth leaders, let’s say Ms. M, on the last day of VBS. Ms. M asked if Mom would take over a month of sunday school teaching, since the lady who normally did it was going on vacation…. she agreed; she went on to ask for another thing or two (I did not hear the actual conversation) and then, almost as an afterthought, said, “Oh, and Chris will have to stay home tonight.”
My mom was shocked, and somewhat trapped, as Chris, then eleven or so, was sitting on her lap at the time. Trying to be as vague as possible, she said, “well what do you mean? He can’t stay home; my husband isn’t home tonight and I’m going to be teaching one of the groups.”
Ms. M explained that the group leader for Chris’s age was in a wheelchair, and found Chris too difficult to handle. The leader was supposed to have someone else helping lead too, but they apparently didn’t show up. So Chris was just going to have to stay home, she said.
Well my mom was very very pissed off, to say the least. She said she’d talk later and hung up. Chris looked up to ask who it was, and mom waved off the subject, saying “I need your help with my group tonight.” He saw through that, though, and said “You were talking about me, weren’t you? They don’t want me, do they?” She told him that wasn’t the case and that she needed his help. “No, I don’t want to go with you! I want to go with my group. I saved up all my quarters!”
To clarify, there is a money race during VBS, boys vs. girls, where everyone dumps money in bins (colored by gender) and the group with the most money raised wins the competition. Chris had spent an hour searching out every quarter he had for Quarter Day. And that, I think, is the most heartbreaking thing about the story.
So he went to help my mom with her VBS group. He didn’t go to sunday school after that; I think it made him feel unwanted. He goes to mass with us now.
Chris is very loud, he’s hyperactive, he likes sharing information that is clearly irrelevant to the conversation with everyone, and people think he’s a little obnoxious. But that is who he is, and though somewhat distracting at times, I can hardly believe he would be enough of a hindrance that a teacher couldn’t keep him in line; I’ve seen some pretty hyper kids in VBS groups. He is a good kid, and doesn’t cause any harm to anyone. Churches are supposed to be a place of welcome and love. And most of our church is; they were shocked at what Ms. M had said and apologized profusely for her behavior, but it’s not like they could do anything after that.
Chris still doesn’t know what happened. (And if you know him/me, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to him, please.)
How fair do you think Ms. M’s decision was? Has anyone you know with Autism ever been singled out by someone you thought for sure would be open to their differences? What did you do, and was everyone involved aware at that time of the reason for their assumed “bad” behavior?