Religious education for autistic children is an option that requires planning and careful instruction. Among the most challenging aspects of religious education for autistic children is abstract ideas. Kids on the spectrum tend to take things quite literally. If someone says, "You're driving me up the wall," a child with autism is likely to have difficulty translating the figure of speech. Religious studies often include symbolic relationships that can be difficult to grasp when a person tends to be concrete.
Having faith in something that you are unable to see or touch can be challenging for any person. When it comes to individuals on the spectrum, faith-based concepts can be very difficult to comprehend. This does not mean that religious education for kids on the spectrum is impossible.
Religious Eduction for Autistic Children
Teaching abstract concepts can be difficult, no matter who the student is. Using teaching strategies that appeal to concrete, visual learners can make the process easier. Developing activities that use visual representations of the abstract ideas introduced systematically can help.
A system used to teach religious concepts to children with autism was developed by Cathy Boyle, the mother of a child with autism. Her approach, outlined in the New York Times article, " Dealing With Autism, Lesson by Lesson in a Quest for First Communion" uses the following strategies:
- Consistent structure
- Visual aids representing abstract ideas
- Reliance on literal interpretations of religious concepts
- Using familiar images to teach theories
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a list of Catechetical resources for children with Autism in a PDF file. This publication is specific to the Catholic church, but it may be used as a guide for developing helpful resources for children of other faiths. The basic concept can be used for secular education as well.
Creating a book that uses pictures of a church, school or community setting can help kids on the spectrum develop expectations. Take pictures of the entrance of the church, the pews, and important details that require attention. Offer the guide as a way to prepare for religious education classes and services.
Resources for Religious Education and Autism
The focus on educating children with autism is on how the autistic child learns. The approach should be consistent, concrete and visual in nature. Some resources are available for helping children on the spectrum learn in a religious educational setting.
The Autism Society offers a great article entitled, 'Autism and Faith Resources.' The article offers helpful resources for those of both Christian and Jewish faiths.
Autism Culture and Religious Studies
Liz O'Brien from the Department of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of Birmingham writes in " Connecting with RE: An Approach to Religious Education for Children with Autism or Severe and Complex Learning Disabilities" that teaching religious concepts to children on the spectrum involves:
- Distinctive approach
- Imagination and creativity
- Relating to the culture of autism
Learning how to teach children with autism is the first lesson. After instructors become empathetic to the differences in mental processing, teaching becomes easier, whether teaching concrete concepts or abstract ideas.