The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons on the autism spectrum disorder. We envision a society where Filipinos on the spectrum become the best of their potentials -- self-reliant, independent, productive, socially-accepted citizens of an Autism-OK Philippines.

28 March 2011

When people with autism go to church

By DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ — Luke 18:16.
DADDY Evert with Mae-Mae inside the church.

MANILA, Philippines – Temple Grandin confessed she didn’t like church. Fortunately, she thought the organ in church she was attending was wonderful. Yet if the church had a band and played loud instruments, she might not be able to tolerate the sounds. Temple Grandin is a celebrated professor of Animal Science, author, speaker, and inventor. She is one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2010. She is a person with autism (PWA).

“I think like Google for images. I have to see pictures in my mind… We need to make accommodations for them (referring to people on the spectrum),” said Temple during a lecture series for MIND Institute on Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

“Now how do I think about abstract concepts, like what the Lord’s Prayer meant? I went to a little speech therapy school, and was taught the Lord’s Prayer. I had absolutely no idea what the prayer meant — Thou art in Heaven — I didn’t know what that meant. I thought that God was up in heaven painting on an easel. The only part that I understood was the ‘power’ and the ‘glory’.”

Temple showed a picture of a rainbow, with an electrical tower at the base of the rainbow. “Now, that is the ‘power’ and the ‘glory’.”

Among PWAs, grasping the meaning of abstract concepts such as power and glory is a challenge. Tolerating bombardment of their senses while inside church is another major challenge. This can lead to “horror stories” such as that of Adam Race who was banned by a Catholic priest in 2008 from attending church because his alleged unruly behavior endangered other churchgoers.

Integrating PWAs in churches requires not only the affected families’ preparation. It also calls for the church communities’ understanding and compassion.

Our Angel Talker this week is ASP national board secretary Tiffany Tan. Mom Tiff and her son JR, with autism, are active members of Christian Bible Church of the Philippines (CBCP) in Talayan Village, Quezon City.

In CBCP where families of our Angel Talker Tiffany and this columnist go to every Sunday, ASP-Jaycees poster on detecting signs of autism is displayed prominently. There are at least seven regular church-goers with autism. Sometimes one of them would suddenly shriek during the service, sometimes one would laugh or jump. But the rest of the church congregation understands. No one stares nor complains. They are all treated as children of God.


Ivan and Charika Corea, parents of Charin, a teenager with autism, founded Autism Sunday. In 2000, Ivan and Charika were instrumental in the autism awareness campaign in United Kingdom, aiming for better services in education, therapies and greater public awareness about autism.

The UK declared year 2002 as the Autism Awareness Year, with a major conference on autism and a historic service held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Since then, every second week of February is celebrated as Autism Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. This year, it will be observed on Feb. 13.


Daddy Evert Malapad wanted to include Mae-Mae in their family Sunday worship. But Mae-Mae was always agitated even just going near the church.

To address the need, Evert devised an intensive desensitization program. Father and daughter started by driving around the church area first for several weeks. Then they progressed to parking about two corners away from the church, and nearer and nearer until Mae-mae could stand in front of the church.

The first time Evert tried to make Mae-Mae get out of the car, his daughter started having tantrums.

“I quickly carried her to the car. The incident almost cost me my life, when a subdivision security guard was about to grab his service pistol to stop me. He thought that I was a kidnapper!” Evert recalls.

Today, Mae-Mae quietly sits with her family while completing the Sunday mass. And she even had her first communion already. Thanks to the commitment of dad Evert who consistently executed the desensitization program for one year!

Herbert Tiu’s daughter, Kim, attends Sunday School together with her siblings. Kim is accommodated to join in the activities and the pastor allowed the yaya (caregiver) to be with Kim to address her special needs. The child is not forced to comply with the activities, such as Bible stories, or arts and crafts. If Kim needs to leave the room (if she is unable to comply or is distracted with noise), the volunteer teacher allows her to leave the class. This way, Kim is not left at home with the yaya whenever the family goes to church.

In order to prepare Ruppert, mom Aileen Valera of ASP Diliman Chapter, talked to their local parish priest for her son to undergo catechism for two consecutive Saturdays. Together, they watched a video of an actual Catholic Mass, taught how to make the sign of the cross, and to pray the Our Father, and taught them on how to receive the Holy Communion. As Ruppert himself had requested to join the activity, the catechist facilitated the process. He was able to complete the “simulated” activities and was eventually accommodated to join the Eucharistic celebrations with his family on Sundays.

Nica Escasinas, one of the ASP Dream Girls, serves every Sunday in their church choir. Bryan Lu, band member (vocalist/drummer) of SPARKLE Band also volunteers to sing-along occasionally with the youth fellowship worship team.


In 2009, Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddle back Church, one of the largest churches in California, pledged to pray for over 60 million people with autism and Asperger Syndrome.

The Christian Bible Church of the Philippines, an evangelical church, sponsored the Autism Awareness Seminar in August 2005 and March 2009. Most of the attendees were volunteer Sunday school teachers. The activity was made to inform the participants about autism and how they can help better understand PWAs. The church continues to accommodate PWAs and their family members and plans to have another awareness seminar this year.

AMO-PDM (Archdiocese of Manila Office for Persons with Disabilities Ministries) also hosts yearly activities for children with autism like puppet show, face painting, and for parents and carers of PWAs, free massage therapy.

Here are other things parents and other people can do to help PWAs in their church integration:

• Ask your local pastor, priest or prayer partners to pray for children with autism and their family members who care for them.

• Be sensitive to families of children with autism.

• Avoid remarks like “Children here are all ‘normal’” or “Why do you send your child (with autism) to Sunday School?”

• Organize or host an ‘Understanding Autism Orientation’ in your fellowship or small groups and invite people to join.

• Request for PWA accommodations in your local church or place of worship.

• Sunday schools or youth groups may also offer special lessons in a small group setting to accommodate their special needs.

• Volunteer to help PWAs or organize activities for them. Offer to be the teacher aide in your child’s class, or custodian for Sunday school materials, or offer to distribute snacks to kids.

• Organize a film showing about autism during Autism Sunday after church service. Recommended films include Rain Man, Ocean Heaven, and Temple Grandin (HBO Biopic) and invite your church mates. Provide simple refreshments and materials about autism, such as the ASP Brochure. You can write ASP regarding your intent.

• Involve older children with autism in church, like volunteering for them to arrange chairs in the fellowship, set up the computer and sound system, or join the worship leader during singing, or play musical instruments. Again, it will all depend on the child’s skill and the willingness of the church to accommodate your children’s needs.

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Acknowledgment to Manila Bulletin: When people with autism go to church


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