Help! I Have a Kid with Autism in My Bible Class! (Part 1)

Do you know a child with autism?  If you don’t now, chances are you will before too long.  The numbers being diagnosed are rising.  According to the CDC, 1 in 88 children will be diagnosed with autism this year.  Are we prepared to handle a child in our Bible class that has needs and behaviors that we haven’t dealt with before?  If we haven’t had an issue yet, we probably will. The purpose of this post is to discuss basic questions about autism.  In my next post, I want to give practical ideas and strategies that can be implemented in the Bible class program.

What is autism?  Autism is a complex disorder in brain development that is characterized, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.  Symptoms become apparent before the age of three and are 4-5 times more likely seen in boys than in girls.  Autism occurs at all intelligence levels, although about 75% of  individuals with autism have an IQ below average, the other 25% have an average or above average intelligence.

As for the cause of autism, most cases appear to be caused by a combination genetic and environmental factors influencing early brain development.  There are a couple of reasons why the numbers have gone up significantly in recent years.  While more children may be affected, studies suggest that much or all of the increase is due to better and wider detection. (Thomas Insel, National Institute of Mental Health, March 29, 2012, Autism Prevalence:  More Affected or More Detected?).

There are a number of characteristics that may accompany children with autism.  These characteristics may be from mild to severe.  I have found that no two children will have exactly the same characteristics or degree of severity.

The three areas that are difficult for every child with autism are social, communication, and behavior.

Difficulties with social interaction

Examples include the following:

  • poor use of nonverbal communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures
  • lack of awareness of feelings of others
  • remaining aloof, preferring to be alone
  • difficulty interacting with other people and failure to make peer friendships
  • may not enjoy physical contact
  • lack of or abnormal social play
  • lack of response to verbal cues (may seem deaf)

Difficulties with communication

Examples include the following:

  • delay or total lack of speech
  • if speech is developed, it is abnormal in content and quality
  • difficulty expressing needs and wants, verbally and/or non-verbally
  • repeating words or phrases back when spoken to (known as echolalia)
  • inability to initiate or sustain conversation
  • absent or poorly developed imaginary play

Restricted interests, behaviors, and activities

Examples include the following:

  • insisting on following routines, resisting change
  • ritualistic or compulsive behaviors
  • odd play
  • repetitive body movements (hand flapping, rocking) and/or abnormal posture (toe walking)
  • preoccupation with parts of objects or a fascination with repetitive movement (spinning wheels, turning on and off lights)
  • narrow, restricted interests (dates/calendars, numbers, weather, movie credits)

Other features and behaviors that are seen in some people with autism, including the following:

  • aggressive or self-injurious behavior
  • noticeable extreme under-activity or over-activity
  • throwing tantrums
  • short attention span
  • abnormal responses to sensory stimuli (for example, expressing over sensitivity or under sensitivity to pain)
  • abnormalities in eating or sleeping
  • not responding to normal teaching methods
  • playing in odd or unusual ways
  • inappropriate attachment to objects
  • no apparent fear of dangerous situations


In my next post, I want to look at teacher attitudes and how they can make or break a child with autism in Bible class.  I will also give suggestions, strategies and ideas to help teachers in a Bible class setting.  Dealing with autism may be difficult and challenging, but it will never be boring!



Brown, Fredda, Gerber, Sima, Oliva, Christopher M.  Characteristics of Children with Autism.  City University of New York-Queens College.

Insel, Thomas.  Autism Prevalence:  More Affected or More Detected? NIMH, March 29, 2012.