Teaching Religious Education To Autistics

Read Complete Research Material


Teaching Religious Education to Children with Autism

Teaching Religious Education to Children With Autism


Families of children diagnosed with autism face multiple challenges in finding faith formation opportunities that are sensitive to their child's unique communication, social-emotional, cognitive, and sensory needs. By embracing the biblical understanding of the word “know”, we are reminded that “knowing God” calls forth a “whole-body way of knowing” that transcends our cognitive understanding of who God is.

For children with autism, this knowing means creating opportunities in which they come to know God through experiencing God. Using focusing procedures, the construct of experiential religion proposes that it is only in the primacy of feelings and within the process of experiencing that a bodily felt relating to the divine is possible. A faith-formation process is proposed that integrates the focusing dynamic with best practices in teaching children with autism(Groome, 1991).


Fully supporting the faith formation of persons with autism calls for an appreciation of their unique learning differences, which we gain by relying on various disciplines including neuroscience, developmental psychology, speech/language pathology, and education. While an in-depth discussion of best teaching practices for children with autism is beyond the scope of this article, it is instructive to briefly review some of the hallmark features of autism and corresponding instructional implications. Children diagnosed with autism present a complex learning profile due to atypical neurophysiological development. While autism manifests itself differently in each person, there are core challenges all persons with autism experience. Autism is characterized by significant difficulties in processing social-emotional information and language as well as challenges in regulating mild to extreme states of heightened or reduced emotional reactions caused by anxiety, fear, distress, or even positive emotional states of elation and giddiness (Prizant et al., 2006)(Hay, 2006).

A primary source of social-emotional vulnerability for persons with autism is the difficulty of attending to one's own body in a way that allows them to identify and understand their own feelings. These challenges can also interfere with the ability to make associations and causal links between a feeling and the precipitating event that evoked the feeling. For example, when a classroom becomes too noisy, a young child becomes anxious. She has a difficult time understanding what the teacher is saying and what her classmates are doing. As she becomes increasingly overwhelmed, her stomach begins to do “flip flops,” and moments later she reflexively puts her hands over her ears and begins rocking back and forth in an attempt to soothe herself. Because she does not have a “name” for what she is sensing (e.g., “too noisy”) she is not able to take the next step of connecting this felt sense with what she is feeling (e.g., “scared” or “anxious”)(Bradford, 1995).

Psychotherapist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin maintains that a “feeling” comprises attending to one's bodily felt sense and the cognitive understanding of that felt sense (Shea, 2007). Experiencing feelings is a developmental process and it is this particular social-emotional challenge that carries profound implications when considering the faith-formation ...
Related Ads