The transition into the youth group may be the time the church begins to have difficulty working with the social skill deficits and cognitive challenges of young people on the autism spectrum. Developmentally, youth are exploring more complex relationships that require more complex social skills.
They are also transitioning into higher levels of abstract thinking. Bible lessons become longer, use fewer visuals, and focus on developing a worldview by applying Bible stories, not just hearing them. Here are some ideas to consider:
Encouraging Growth in Christ
Incorporate concrete thinking into every lesson. Review Bible characters and facts and break down theological terms. This can help teens on the autism spectrum make the jump into applications and understand how others think.
Use visuals and be creative. Visuals are often relegated to pictures that help illustrate Bible principles. While that type of visual can be helpful, there are many other ways to be visual:
- Give the student a copy of the Bible passage.
- Give pages from the book to hold and read.
- Have students write facts or guiding principles from the lesson on a white board.
- Pass out typed prayer requests so everyone can see who to pray for.
- Utilize videos to illustrate ideas.
Encouraging Relationships with Others
We want church to be where every young person feels safe to be himself or herself. In this season of life, youth become very self-reflective and driven to protect and promote their image. We must foster a culture that promotes acceptance and love for God’s people regardless of their differences and how those differences make you feel.
Games. If your youth group plays games, consider whether they require skills that your young people with autism do not possess. Quick reaction time, give-and-take conversations, abstract thinking, drawing, and fine and gross motor skills can be difficult.
Downtime. At this age, youth want unstructured downtime to build relationships with others. Teens on the spectrum may not be able to keep up in conversations or may not be interested in sitting and talking. Consider having things for these students to do that match their interests and skill levels, so that social deficits are not as noticeable.
Serving. Consider ways that your youth can serve each other, the church, and the community together. Serving is a great way to build skills and take an interest in the success of others. Consider adding a young adult buddy to your teams of youth to help buoy students who need support.
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