Helping a Family with Autistic Family Members

March 22, 2019

BCC Staff Note: Today’s post is the third article of a three-part BCC mini-series on Autism Spectrum Disorder. The goal of this series is to help you to understand the label of autism and equip you to minister to those labeled as autistic. In Part 1, Mark Shaw gave an overview of autism from a biblical perspective, and in Part 2 he provided guidance in counseling the person labeled autistic. Today, Pam Gannon discusses counseling the family of a person labeled autistic. 

Autism. When our family first faced the diagnosis of our son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we were overwhelmed with many questions and concerns.

How did this happen to my child? Is this a physical or spiritual problem? What can I expect for this child? How will I do this? What kind of help will my child need? Will they ever go to school, have friends, get married, have a family, or get a job?… What is God doing?

Biblical counselors will likely be called upon to help families struggling with these and other questions. Let’s consider ways we can bring God’s hope and help to families in this situation.

Hear Their Cries

It is appropriate to acknowledge the pain and difficulty of living in the brokenness of the world. Families of autistic children face confusion and discouragement as they endure the day-to-day struggles. Like the Psalmists before them, they can bring their confusion, doubt, and questions to the Lord: “O people; Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8).

Encourage them to cast their cares on Him, because He cares for them. He knows. He understands!

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15). 

Help Them Yield to God’s Sovereignty

God is still king. He reigns over the earth and everything in it. He is sovereign, and He causes all things to work for His glory and our good—even autism. He designed our children exactly the way He desired to, for His purposes—to glorify His name in them (John 9:1-3).

Steve Viars, in his helpful talk on Helping Parents of Special Needs Children, suggests parents of children with disabilities ask themselves these questions:

  1. Is there anything about this situation that is outside of God’s control?
  2. Could God have prevented this from happening to [our child] and to us if He had chosen to?
  3. Will God ever give us more than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13)?
  4. Can God use this situation for His glory and our good?
  5. Has God promised to go with us as we try to raise our [child] for Him?
  6. Will we accept this responsibility and seek to joyfully submit to His plan for our family?

Help sorrowing parents to turn to the Lord for strength, and lead them toward yielding to and trusting in God’s good purposes for their family.  A resource I have found helpful in this regard is a book by Krista Horning entitled, Just the Way I Am: God’s Good Design in Disability.

Help Them Kindle Affection for Their Child

When families embrace God’s unique plan for them, they can learn to enjoy the child for who God made them to be. Help families think about the unique opportunities in their situation: to grow spiritually, to learn more about God’s acceptance of all His “special needs” children (1 Cor. 1:26-30), and to find creative ways to lovingly minister to their child. Help them think about the distinctive ways that God’s glory can shine through their situation. God has entrusted them to care for this precious person during this lifetime.

Encourage Discernment About ASD

In order to avoid unwise courses of action, it is important for families to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” in dealing with any potentially false information they may receive from well-meaning people. Current medical research on autism has not definitively determined a cause or a cure for the deficits. So, teach a family to graciously, but firmly, respond to any offered information claiming to know cause or cure: “Thank you for your concern. My husband/wife and I have a different opinion or have chosen a different option.”

Get Help

For physical deficits:  Parents will benefit from engaging available resources to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses. We used the disciplines of physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy to mitigate the physical deficits which often accompany autism.

For spiritual needs: Counselors can encourage families to patiently stay the course in biblical parenting (adapted for the autistic person with limited ability to understand verbal/non-verbal communication). Special education workers may be helpful. But most of all, autistic kids have a heart that we must work to reach with the gospel. God’s Word and His Spirit remain our main source of wisdom and help. Ask God for the wisdom you will need to raise the precious child He entrusted to your care.

Question for Reflection

How could God use the diagnosis of autism in your life or your counselees’ lives to help you grow and change into Christlikeness?

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