Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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From Your Grace's perspective, what kind of service can the church provide for autistic children? There are several other servants that would like to offer a service to this population. They have started by meeting one Saturday each month for a sort of spiritual day that begins with a Divine Liturgy followed by activities. Other high school youth present accompany each child with autism as a "buddy". The child with autism is befriended and the high school youth are able to serve a brother/sister simply by giving them accompany for a day. Another purpose of such a day is to give the parents a break.  
Aside from those goals, I'm having a difficult time understanding what these kids need spiritually. They are all at different cognitive levels; so it is difficult to generalize a program. So, should we work towards their potential, individually, and teach them basic Sunday school lessons or just make sure they have a basic tolerance for the Divine Liturgy while providing them with a fun and safe atmosphere? I have a master's degree in speech-language pathology and work at a school for children with autism. I can help parents in working with their children but I am totally lost on addressing those children's spiritual needs. Thank you in advance for your time.

I am sure you are more of an expert in the field of Autism than I am; since you deal with these kids more closely. The way I see it is that while we try to teach those children how to interact with society to improve their communication skills; we need to tell them about the presence of God and His great love for them. The work you are doing sounds wonderful; and to get them to attend the Divine Liturgy is an excellent step in introducing God and the Coptic hymns to them. I believe that teaching them Sunday school lessons is easier and less challenging than any academic subject. I think they would enjoy listening to a short story about our Lord Jesus Christ; if it is communicated to them at their individual level. There are also different, very simple and interesting cartoon videos of the Holy Bible stories. These are usually 25 minutes long and could be used as resources. Just make sure you show them a small part of a movie at a time.

We should strive to relate to these children the message that God exists, that He loves them and that they can have a special relationship with Him. I know that speech is one of their greatest problems; but maybe you can teach them just a few words of the Lord's Prayer as a way of communicating with the Lord. In our attempt to help them to socially  fit in the world, we should also try to enlighten them spiritually; in order that they get to realize that they are children of God.
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