Over the past several years, numerous organizations have increased their efforts to create welcoming, accommodating environments for people with autism, a condition that affects 1 in 59 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. St. John’s UCC in Emmaus, a church based in Lehigh Valley, is now joining the effort to accommodate children with autism, who often struggle with sensory and behavioral issues that can make family outings a challenge.
According to a report this month by the news site Morning Call.com, the initiative was led by Beryl Snyder, St. John’s director of Christian education. After her husband shared an incident in which a woman with an autistic child left the church in embarrassment when her son wouldn’t stop fidgeting, Snyder realized that efforts needed to be made to ensure that families of children with autism felt secure and welcome in the church.
In its report, Morning Call noted that over a dozen Lehigh Valley churches accommodate autistic children through shorter services, or by having volunteers on hand to assist families. Rather than going to churches, Snyder’s research brought her to the Reading Public Museum, the first museum in Pennsylvania to become a Certified Autism center.
The museum’s accommodations include noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses to dim lights, and sensory bags filled with items designed to soothe autistic children. Visiting the museum led Snyder to wonder why her church couldn’t cater to children with autism and their families the same way.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the Reading Public Museum’s approach when applied to her church, Snyder used Dylan Furlong, a 4-year-old with autism and the son of one of her friends. Thankfully, the church’s quiet room, combined with a goodie bag full of sensory toys, were more than enough to keep Dylan in a calm and relaxed state.
“If this would take off, and I really hope it does, I would love to get more children and parents back to church," Snyder said. “I want them to find a spiritual home.”