Century Connect—News about an Autism Ministry
by Beth Dobyns
Century Christian Church in Owensboro is building its specialized ministry called Century Connect. This ministry provides families with children on the autism spectrum with the opportunity to worship without having to make extensive plans for respite care. The main part of this ministry is a carefully crafted church school program that runs parallel to the regular worship service on Sunday mornings.
This ministry came from a local special education teacher who had the idea to give families dealing with autism the chance to go to worship without having to make complex arrangements for respite care for that brief time. The parallel church school along with a picture schedule for the worship service as well as providing sensory toys began a very effective interface for those on the autism scale.
The church school is sensory-friendly, a key component of programming for the children and youth who participate. The use of the picture schedule for worship provides a graphic for every action and non-verbal cue that most worship attendees take for granted. The picture provides the direction for actions such as sit, stand, sing, pray, etc. This technique is familiar to autism families from school and behavioral therapy sessions.
The program at Century also provides some stimulation. Stimming, behaviors that persons find stimulating, such as pacing, rocking, hand movements, is a familiar part of autism, and Century’s program provides sensory toys that help focus behaviors. Among these might be soft brushes, fidget spinners, and “fidget” boards. The church has installed large boards with sequined fabric—the kind that changed shades when stroked. Persons can draw or move the fabric to make designs. Fidget boards can also have items attached such as door knobs, latches, laces, and other things that can be opened and closed repeatedly.
According to Betty Sivis, senior minister at Century Christian, the church has hired an intern who is trained in autism interaction; this program is organized and carried out by the staff intern and specially-trained volunteers. Betty says that the style of their ministry for those on the autism spectrum “makes it possible for “neuro-typical kids to socialize with kids on the autism spectrum when there are sensory toys, fidget and activity boards and picture schedules are utilized.” Even if the church has a small population of children and youth overall, this specialized ministry can and does incorporate all children and youth.
Century Christian is also glad to partner with local non-profit organizations who help families deal with autism. Some of them provide respite care for families as needed, and some are effective resource partners in the design and implementation of visual and sensory programs and equipment. Century Christian Church is a congregation that is part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.
Here are some helpful links for anyone looking into this for their church: