The “Church Story”…

(This was first posted in July of 2010)

Last Sunday morning, I got up feeling adventurous. (My husband has been in an Infantry unit in Afghanistan since January, and our daughter was just diagnosed PDD-NOS/Autism Spectrum Disorder in February, after being born during my husband’s last deplyoment with a chromosome deletion and many medical issues, developmental delay, etc.)

I thought today seems like as good a day as any to try to take her to church. We had brought her every Sunday from the time she was born, even through the toughest times of her congestive heart failure and feeding tube days, until one day about 18 months ago – she began screaming the moment we walked into the building. I tried for 20 minutes to calm her not understanding what the problem was, etc., thinking it was a mood rather than anything else and she would eventually be alright to sit for mass.

It never happened.

Scores of dirty looks, impatient parishioners waiting for me to just give up and walk out. And I did. The beauty of that moment was that it prompted one of the active members of the parish to begin a dialogue of inclusion for special needs. Great! – Except that the accomodations the church made to make mass more accessible for kids and adults like my daughter weren’t going to help us if we still couldn’t get through the front door with her. And after a few subsequent attempts it seemed that we were never getting her IN the building again no matter what changes were made inside to accomodate her needs. The church set up a small, quiet room to simulcast mass through TV for those that were sensory sensitive like my daughter. Yet, we have still not made it to that room. So that brings us to last Sunday when I felt energetic and enthusiastic enough to try again.

Well, we made it through the parking lot to the door. THAT was an accomplishment. But when we got there and I motioned to go inside, my 4 year old just imploded. And it was heartbreaking. I could feel her discomfort at the very thought of just setting foot inside the door. Fifteen minutes of her screaming in tears outside the door, with me sitting calmly on the ground in front of the door patiently waiting. Dozens of people had come and entered the church. Most looked the other way as to save me from the embarrassment of their glare and some even felt compelled to comment. “Well that’s a toddler for you.” Or worse, “Been there.”

No. You haven’t been there.

I wasn’t giving up. So after a few more minutes – after the screaming had stopped – I slowly stood up and made my way through the glass doors asking her to join me (and her brother who was already inside with my parents). Even as she protested, I slowly stepped inside the door. Now there we were – her on the outside, me on the inside. I sat down on the carpet inside the door and opened her backpack as she watched me through the glass. I slowly and carefully pulled her favorite toys from the backpack and laid them out for her to see. I signed to her to come in and play. She cried.

As this was continuing, more parishioners would come and enter the door, give me a brief look of contempt as to why I was teasing my poor child on the outside of the glass – all alone – I didn’t care, I kept trying. There was one young father with a 1-year-old baby boy who took the time to ask me if there was anything he could do to help. I explained to him that she is autistic and has sensory issues and therefore had much trouble with the idea of coming inside the doors. So he sweetly dangled his baby boy in front of the glass like a prize for my daughter if she would just come in. I truly appreciated this father’s innocent attempt to help. He asked questions. He had compassion. It made the lengthy stalemate pass by just a little more swiftly.

I never did get her inside the door. But what I did accomplish in almost 90 minutes of trying was just a little more comfort than we had before. She tolerated me on the other side of that glass door for more than an hour. A couple of times near the end of our time there she did approach the door and even open it a peek. And though small a victory it was, I did feel victorious. I felt victorious the moment we stepped out of my truck and she took my hand just to walk up to the building. Everything she accomplished beyond that was pure gravy. And she DID accomplish a lot. She made it TO THE DOOR. Maybe next time she will step inside, even for a second or two. And I will keep trying.

That’s why we do it. She will sit in mass once again someday. We will join together as a family in a ritual that is of importance to us and it will be worth every hour spent staring through those glass doors cheering her on to come a little closer. I have to. I don’t know any other way than to just keep fighting the fight and keep pushing forward. It’s worth every dirty look, worth every ignorant comment. And I will continue to speak up and say, “My daughter has autism, and we made it all the way to the door today!!! I am PROUD!!!” Just as I said last Sunday to everyone who passed by us.

We do what we do because we just love our kids.

About Rachel Kenyon

Rachel Kenyon is an Aspie, Advocate and single mom of two beautiful babes - The Boy (11) and RM (8). The Boy is a Legomaniac and RM is a kick-ass diva with Autism and 4q Deletion Syndrome. View all posts by Rachel Kenyon

19 responses to “The “Church Story”…

  • Niksmom

    This is beautiful, Rachel. And that dad with the baby? How awesome is he that he wanted to help instead of turn away and roll his eyes like it seems so many others do. I so admire your tenacity and your courage. You teach me much every time you speak/write. Thank you.

  • CeeCee

    You’re an incredibly brave and compassionate mama. You are such an inspiration and I consider myself extremely ucky to have you in my village!

  • akbutler

    I loved this story when you told it that night, and I loved reading it now. Welcome to the blogging world. I’m so happy to know you and to now see you here :-)

  • akbutler

    and your blog is beautiful, by the way. beautiful.

  • therocchronicles

    Yup, it’s why we do what we do. The victories are huge here! Wonderful post.

    So happy that you are blogging!

  • Boy Wonder's Mom

    Your girl is gorgeous. Just like her mama. And brave just like her mama. So looking forward to your next post.

    Jersey

  • Jeanne Krawetzky

    ………and this is why you are so special to so many people. You are one of a kind Rach.

  • CB

    What a beautiful story…you are an amazing mom and I’m so proud to know you. Looking forward to many more stories from you. xo

  • rhemashope

    as i was reading this i could picture you telling us the story that night. i was struck by your beautiful strength and laughter. here’s to making it to the door, my friend! i’m right there with you.
    so glad you’re writing.

    • Rachel

      I have read both of your Autism at Church posts, and I am humbled… you nailed it. Love your suggestions on Part 2… Hub and I sat down with one of the lay ministers at our church more than a year ago and not much came of it… though they did begin simulcasting mass to another room.

      xo Love that DOAM has brought all of us together… Feel so very blessed.

  • jess

    so much time we spend on the other side of the glass doors in our lives. i’m so glad you’re here, rach. your love and your strength jump off the page.

  • Hockey is GOOD. « Welcome to StimCity…

    […] dedicated to RM.  Meaning… even if we didn’t make it through the doors, it was ok (see my Church post).  Mom, Dad, and big brother had already had our hockey games this season that we enjoyed.  […]

  • >"RM’s" Story – A family’s fight for hope, help and autism awareness | My Army Reserve

    […] greatly from one person to another. It primarily affects communication and social abilities. Severe sensitivity to noise, lighting, changes in routine are prominent. A child with autism may have tremendous […]

  • Come May Flowers « Welcome to StimCity…

    […] from one person to another.  It primarily affects communication and social abilities.  Severe sensitivity to noise, lighting, changes in routine are prominent.  A child with autism may have tremendous […]

  • Michelle Berrett Bodine

    We were also in the military until a few years ago, my husband being deployed 7 of the 12 years he was active duty. My heart goes out to you and all the other military moms fighting this battle often on their own.
    I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one battling Sundays… my 11 yr old son starts his panic attack early on Saturday afternoons, stuck in a repeating loop begging to not have to attend church. From the time he was about 3 until only a year or so ago he would whisper a constant plea to leave and kick me under the bench all through the service. Often he would spend Sunday school tucked under my arm in the adult class instead of attending his own, now matter how many of his friends begged him to join them. This year it it changed to him having trouble even leaving home.
    My 16yr old also has Autism but never really struggled at church, though my 13yr old has sensory & anxiety problems that also make it difficult. I remember his Sunday school teacher telling me once how well he was now doing in class, no longer hiding under his chair or hiding in the bathroom… I could never figure out why she hadn’t told me he was doing these things in the first place so I could help him.
    Thankfully our new congregation has been understanding but still doesn’t really understand, how can anyone really who hasn’t lived in StimCity.

  • Cheairs Redefining Typical

    Beautiful story. Such faith. I am going to forward this to the ministers at our church. They have been wonderful about helping us with our little guy. I think you so vividly describe the challenges that parents of a child with special needs faces. Your words touched my heart.

  • Amen « StimCity

    […] If you are not familiar, we have attempted church with autism. […]

  • Granthana Sunder

    Oh rapture yes. This is the only reason I was born. To
    find you, my long lost blogger soul-mate.

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