Presbyterians Today

JUN-JUL 2018

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ADVOCATES took was to explore how to engage people with autism spectrum disorder on a Sunday morning in a way that they and their families would feel welcome, safe and supported. "We wanted to make our worship service friendly," Masters said. Southern Heights began with its worship bulletin, which like many is heavy on text, and simplified it, adding visual cues to help show what is happening in the service. While the visual cues are helpful to people with autism spectrum I t was just another Sunday morning in the Cornhusker State. The faithful entered Southern Heights Presbyterian's sanctuary, filling the cavernous room with chatter before the start of worship. The bell chimed and the chattering — as well as the rustling of coats, worship bulletins and those flipping through the hymnals and marking the hymns for the day — subsided. The Christ candle was solemnly lit, leaving a flickering flame to aid in prayerful contemplation. The prelude broke the silence. It was time to stand for the Call to Worship. Now sit for the Confession. And back up again for the singing of the Gloria Patri. It was just another Sunday morning for many in this Lincoln, Nebraska, congregation. But for little Kenny, this Lord's Day was very different. For the first time in his young life, he wasn't distracted by noise or movements around him. He folded his hands in prayer as the other worshippers did and followed along with the unison prayer. He did so because the church's new bulletin featured icons at each part of the service, indicating what to do. Kenny is autistic. "Kenny looked at the picture of the prayer hands in the bulletin and followed along. It was the first time he has done that," said the Rev. Leanne Masters. Masters is not just a proud pastor speaking of a first-grader who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2016. Masters is also Kenny's mother. Soon after the diagnosis, Masters shared the news openly with her church family, explaining the best she could what might be expected. But that wasn't easy. "There's a reason why it's called 'autism spectrum disorder' — that's because the behaviors look different for each person. There's a spectrum of behaviors," Masters said. After she shared the news, the mission committee asked Masters how they could support her family. With a long-standing commitment to missions, tithing 10 percent to both local and international causes, the team decided it was time to become advocates for autism. A representative from Autism Family Network, an organization in Lincoln, was invited to talk to the congregation. What they heard was troublesome. "We discovered that there were congregations that actually asked families to leave because of distur- bances during worship," Masters said. Masters explained that dis- turbances can happen because churches are sensory-heavy places, with a cacophony of sounds — voices speaking and singing, together and solo — and smells of smoke from candles being extinguished, water being poured into baptismal fonts, and so on. "There's a lot going on to process and for those with autism, sensory overload can result in behavioral issues," Masters said. "When we heard there were families being told to leave their churches, we knew we had to do something." The first step the mission team Worship bulletin 'shows' as well as tells Church welcomes people with autism spectrum disorder BY DONNA FRISCHKNECHT JACKSON 16 JUNE/JULY 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay COURTESY OF LEANNE MASTERS Southern Heights Presbyterian's new worship bulletin, featuring icons indicating what to do in the service, was created with those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in mind.

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