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Anger or Autism? Helpful Information for KidMin Workers


When children act out, is it due to anger or autism? How do you tell the difference? Read on to discover helpful insights for children’s ministry workers.

A friend sent me her pastor’s outline for a Sunday sermon. Based on that and my friend’s notes, the message was biblically grounded. Titled “The Christ-Honoring Home,” it represented common evangelical views about parenting.

First, the sermon covered 10 ways parents unnecessarily provoke anger in children. Topics included discipline, inconsistent parenting, favoritism, neglect, unrealistic expectations, and pride. All the points and Scripture references were excellent.

Then the second half highlighted signs a child may exhibit if parents provoke them. Scripturally unsound parenting might lead to behavioral challenges in children, the pastor said.

When Parents Provoke Children to Anger

This information comes from the sermon outline:

Signs of parental provocation

  • Kids pull away from their parents
  • Angry outbursts
  • Lack of joy, seldom smile
  • Rebellion against authority
  • Kids say mean things to parents or others

Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Next, let’s look at children with special needs.

Possible signs of an autism spectrum disorder:

  • Little or no interaction
  • Lack of warm, joyful expression
  • Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
  • Disruptive and physically aggressive
  • Tend to lose control when angry and frustrated
  • May break things, attack others, or hurt themselves

These are from First Signs Incorporated and The National Institute of Mental Health.

While reading the sermon notes, I realized something. The church can be a place of great misunderstanding for special-needs families.

Looking Forward

The need for accommodations is growing in churches. And the kidmin team is often responsible for education and awareness. Teachers and helpers are first responders to unusual or difficult conduct. If volunteers aren’t informed about special needs, they may assume misbehavior is due to rebellion or poor parenting.

Many congregations successfully include children with special needs and learning disabilities. They realize that “one size doesn’t fit all” for interpreting behavior challenges. A child’s inability to communicate is often a factor.

Conversations between the kidmin team and parents may be warranted and wise. But dialogue can start much differently when church workers consider possibilities. An undisclosed or undiscovered disability may be driving problematic behavior. By not jumping to conclusions, we’re re more likely to generate a positive outcome.

For more about anger and autism, see this article: “Autism parents’ plea:  Understand kids’ meltdown