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Feeling Unwanted

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 than 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 far 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?

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0 thoughts on “Feeling Unwanted

  • I have experienced this, but from a different perspective. A few summers ago, while still in college, I volunteered to be one of the senior counselors with the VBS program (this is a position given only to college students). One of the VBS participants had an ASD. Although I am not a SPED teacher, I took several courses on students with disabilities since I want to make sure I can understand everyone in my classes and adapt/accommodate/differentiate whenever necessary.

    The boy in question had his share of behavioral difficulties, but the effort he put forth to participate was tremendous. Furthermore, his peers included him. I was his “go-to” guy–if anything happened, I would take him aside and make sure everything was OK, even though I was not his assigned counselor (I was his sports coach, however, which is how I got to know him).
    At the end of each week, the VBS leader meets with all the counselors to determine how each student did behavior-wise. This is part of a competition where certain goals need to be met (such as memorizing Scripture). Each name is called and counselors need to give the student a “good” or “bad” vote–no gray area, no pluses or minuses.
    The boy’s name was called. His counselor gave him a “bad” mark. I quickly intervened, explaining that he had done better than anyone would have expected in light of his disability. Many of the other counselors began agreeing with me. The leader, however, said that “his behavior was poor, so we will mark him as bad”. I continued to argue, stating that she needed to take into account the circumstances. We have not spoken since and I was not asked to return the following year, my last year of eligibility to be a counselor.
    This, to me, was blatant discrimination and misunderstanding. I personally feel employees like this do not belong at a church in a position in which students with disabilities are encountered on a regular basis. This sort of behavior would be unacceptable at a school, so why would we permit it in a place where we’re supposed to be held to a higher standard?

  • We were offiically kicked out of a church because we wouldn’t agree to do to our autistic son what ever anyone in the whole church told us to do to him. By the time we got the letter, it wasn’t written so glaringly bold, but it was the under-lying reason. While that was hard, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened long term for our family. It forced us to find a church that was accepting, even though we had to go out of our denomination of choice to find it. Eventually, we did go back to our type of church–after we found one that was more willing to accept our son.

  • That was a jerky thing to do.  Maybe if they tried loving the kid they would see how awesome he is.

  • My “average” sons – the oldest has ADHD, the youngest has moderate autism – get by fair enough; however, there have been times when I have had to intercede for one or the other of them. I’ve given up on being angry or upset at typical reactions from people who are NT, and I try to teach trusted friends what it “means” for the kids.

    It’s a constant. It’s not an “excuse”. It’s not controllable behaviors that can have a cure-all attached to them.

    The oldest needs several activities simultaneously going on, in order to effectively learn.

    The youngest needs few, and needs relative quiet.

    They are teens now. They’ve each, more or less, come to terms with how they are perceived in the world around them. They’ve mostly learned their strengths, their weaknesses – mostly.

    They learned how to play guitar, without instructors – I couldn’t find instructors who were reasonably priced and would work with a kid with ADHD and a kid with moderate autism.

    I didn’t tell them about the search until much later. It’s okay; they learned on their own. They have learned many things, mostly on their own.

    I lucked out. I have one kid with ADHD, one kid with moderate autism. These kids are also blessed with the incredible will to meet and often exceed expectations of their NT peers, and they both mainstreamed early on.

    I lucked out.

  • This, and many other behaviors requires a lot of compassion and perhaps some understanding.  Many feel unwanted.   I learned that it was my responsibility to teach my kid the best way he COULD be – how to have behaviors and interpret the behaviors of others well enough to “get by” 

    That realization helped me love my boy more.  And help his siblings learn to love him more.   Sometimes we had so much fun, others were drawn in. 

    He is studying law in the fall, and has a finacee.

    but even if things didn’t work so “well”////  we would be well.  Somehow. 

    not everyone can understand.  too sad….for THEM!

    lots of love to you

  • That’s a really tough call. I doubt it was the autism that he was singled out for, but the behavior (I know this is semantics). I guess what I mean is that I don’t know that the reason for the behavior makes that much of a difference if they’re the ones that have to handle it.
    People that are different have been and will be singled out sometimes, its the nature of humanity. It would upset me too.

  • The decision doesn’t sound very fair.  And the actual leader who thought they couldn’t handle Chris sounds like a bit of a coward; why weren’t they the ones making the phone call and explaining themselves?

    I don’t really understand, either, what being in a wheelchair has to do with not being able to handle an Asperger’s kid.  It’s not like they’re going to have to physically tackle your brother… right?


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