Committee Chair

Bernard, Hinsdale

Committee Member

Roblyer, M. D.; Buggey, Tom; Johns, Jackie


Dept. of Education


College of Health, Education, and Professional Studies


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


The purpose of this study was to understand the unique role of organized religion as a support system to families who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Faith communities play a vital role in society and have a theological duty to alleviate the stress of families who have children with special needs and to support healthy adaptation. Delimiting the scope of this study to Christian churches in a mid-size metropolitan area in the South, this project used a case study to understand the level of support one family with a child on the autism spectrum experienced in the churches they have attended. Staff members from the family’s church were also interviewed. In addition, this study attempted to find how Christian churches in the area respond to families who have children with a diagnosis of ASD, and to find out through a phone survey to what degree clergy were aware of the issues that surround families coping with ASD. Case study results showed the family participating in the case study had experienced a non-supportive church as well as two churches that gave support in different ways. The main need this family expressed was the need for respite, which helped decrease the family’s stress. Also, it was important for churches to consider the needs of the siblings, not just the child with autism. The results of the church staff interviews showed the family’s church designed programs by cultivating close relationships with families in the congregation who had children with special needs. Parents were used as an expert resource. Church staff consulted schools, other churches and parachurch ministries when necessary. A stratified random sample of 300 churches was chosen for the phone survey, with 125 churches responding. About half of the churches had a child with autism attending. Churches from the wealthiest zip codes, with the largest congregations, and with more than five full-time staff were more likely to have a program for children with autism. Most of the respondents were aware of the characteristics of an ASD diagnosis. Implications for practice and future research were given based on the findings.


Ed. D.; A dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Education.




Autism spectrum disorders; Church work with children


Autism; Church; Faith Communities; Family Ecology Theory; Social Support; Special Needs; Stress



Document Type

Doctoral dissertations




xvi, 166 leaves





Included in

Education Commons