Autism and Baptism by Jenn Buell

ryan baptism

Every Jesus-lovin’ mama longs to see her children choose to follow Him. But when your child has a developmental disability, helping them understand becomes more difficult.

Hi, I’m Jenn. I have four kids and one of them has autism. Since my son was 18 months old, we have known something was different about him. Because of him, I discovered I was the pro-active kind of mama. I’m the mama who will do research and try to figure out what tools, tricks, therapies, or diagnosis will help me help my children. Where once I feared a label limiting him, I came to understand there is power in a name. With a name for what my son struggled with, I could read, ask questions, and come up with ways to enter his world and help him function in ours.

Ryan is our second child and he has taught me so much. He’s taught me that where God leads, He always provides—information, patience, resources, and help.

He’s taught me to research autism and that I relish sharing information to help the world at large better understand kids like mine. He’s opened doors for me to teach college students, nursing students, parents with kids on the autism spectrum, and even listeners to my radio station about autism.

He’s helped me get started as a freelance writer. My first published article was called Meet My Son and ran in Children’s Ministry Magazine, helping children’s pastors and volunteers better understand special needs families.

Ryan is a gift, just as much as his neuro-typical siblings.

Life with autism is more challenging. Recently I encountered another area that it complicated–helping him understand salvation and baptism.

My husband died two years ago. He was a staff pastor. Ironically, the weekend he died he was supposed to have baptized Ryan and his sister, Kati. It never happened. Last year Kati chose to be baptized at our new church. Ryan kept asking about it when our church would gear up for its next baptism service. But then would decide he wasn’t ready.

With autism, he can get stuck in loops. He can ask about a concern, get an answer that seems satisfactory, and then be back again asking the same question. It takes patience to process with him.

When he was younger, his dad led him to give his heart to Jesus. He seemed to understand. But as I tried to figure out why he was nervous about getting baptized, I realized it was because he did not understand that this prayer he’d prayed with Dad meant his heart was clean, washed by what Jesus did on the cross. He lacked understanding of salvation. He lacked understanding that giving his heart to Jesus ensured his eternal hope of heaven.

That made sense. Why? Because autistic kids have trouble with symbolism. Something in their brains tends toward the literal.

And so I patiently explained the concept of the cross. I explained it in new words, encouraging him to ask questions. He decided he needed to ask Jesus into his heart again. Some would say that was unnecessary—he’d already done it once. I would say that the God who created my special boy understands his heart and this was what he needed.

Now Ryan was ready for the baptism class. Now he was ready for me to sit next to him, keeping him focused on what was being taught and helping him understand. Now he was ready to be baptized.

Afterwards, Ryan said words that made my heart happy: “I feel like a new man.” These words told me he understood better the transformation that was symbolized in baptism.

If you have a special child, struggling to understand spiritual concepts, don’t give up. God trusted YOU with this child. He will give you the words, the tools, the guidance you need to help them walk through understanding just as He does with your neuro-typical kids.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 NIV. That applies to special-needs parenting, too.

Article Jenn wrote about son

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I’m Jenn, a widowed mom of four living in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. I’m a storyteller—writer, blogger, speaker—who believes God uses stories to change lives. My passion is to share authentic stories about a faithful God who meets us in our journeys of the ordinary chaos of life.


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3 thoughts on “Autism and Baptism by Jenn Buell

  1. This message is such a blessing, Jenn and Lisa. Thank-you for sharing how to love these special children well. God has a plan and purpose for all of His children and that includes those with disabilities.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Awesome Momma – I love the following words you share –

    Afterwards, Ryan said words that made my heart happy: “I feel like a new man.” These words told me he understood better the transformation that was symbolized in baptism.

    Liked by 1 person

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