Background first ... We have stopped going to our church a few months ago because it is not child friendly in certain aspects. The Sunday school is staffed by volunteers and there is a large number of people that take turns. For some reason the only rooms with stable volunteers are the nursery (up to 2 yo) and the 3 yo Sunday class. We attended while DS was there because the caregivers/teachers knew him. When he moved up to the 4 yo class, there was a different volunteer each Sunday. I tried to mitigate the situation by volunteering 1 Sunday a month in the 4 yo class, but DH was not happy with that. He would not go to church by himself (frankly, I enjoy it much more when we go together too) while I was with the kids. We never went the other Sundays because we did not feel comfortable leaving DS in his class. For other reasons (that's a long story) we did not feel comfortable bringing DS to service with us (even though he would behave well). We have not looked for a new church because we will be moving to another state this month.
I go to MOPS (same church) because the caregivers there have known DS since he was 6 months old and I do not have to explain his quirks. They love him. The only health issue I ever approached them with was when he developed tics. I wanted them to know what it was and that he could not control it. I was concerned that his vocal tics may be misconstrued as misbehavior during quiet activities (he would hum or make a clicking noise with his mouth). If they know what it is, they would know to respond properly rather than discipline him.
I do not feel comfortable discussing DS's health issues with the random volunteers that are there on Sundays. But during my volunteering, I have witnessed some pretty bad responses to other special needs kids (different age group than DS, I used to help in their class when DS was younger) out of plain ignorance. For example, one boy with sensory processing disorder (and possibly other neurological health challenges) carried a set of head phones with him to block the noise out if he was getting overwhelmed. He was using them especially during the large group activity where several classes joined to sing and dance. One volunteer took the head phones from him (rather forcibly because he was resisting) and reprimanded him for bringing them to the music room. The boy bolted out the door screaming. And that is just one example and it just about broke my heart and all I could think was "this could be my boy". Of course, I realize that most people who are not familiar with these types of neurological health issues cannot recognize them and that it is not reasonable to expect churches to provide educated caregivers. I am just providing this example to illustrate the environment on Sundays. I also feel completely comfortable leaving DD in the class even with a different volunteer each time but, of course, she is a neurotypical child.
Now my challenge ... once we move, we will be looking for a new church. It is very important to us that we start attending church again. If we were not in the "transition", we would have been looking locally. If it is a church that expects all kids to go to service, then it's a non-issue. But I think kid-only Sunday school is great and I simply do not know how much to share. Most of the time, the caregiver would not even notice anything different about DS. For example, the other day both kids were with a baby-sitter for a day. Everything was great until she gave the kids bananas. She sliced the banana and DS had a melt-down. I realize that at 5 yo kids do not have melt downs anymore so I know this is not "normal" behavior but it is what it is. The reason for the meltdown? He is used to eat it whole, holding it in the peel. So the melt down was part his OCD (that's not how I eat a banana) and part sensory (he does not like to touch the banana without peel). The baby sitter resolved it by giving him a fork to eat it with so he would not have to touch it.
This was one incident in 8 hours. The odds of DS exhibiting any non-typical behaviors in 1 - 1 1/2 hours while we are attending service are slim, but obviously not impossible. We also have not told DS his diagnosis and I do not want someone referring to him as the "autistic kid" or something like that. When we go to Drs, I speak to the Dr privately and it is noted in the chart that we do not wish to tell him. But that is a contained situation. In the church we used to go to, this information could easily be shared with 15-20 people. I doubt they would treat it with the same level of confidentiality that a Dr's office does.
So if you made it this far ... what would you do? Just find a church that does not have a separate Sunday program for kids?
I appreciate any input but I would especially love to hear from those of you who help with Sunday school (or other children's programs at your church) and have cared for special needs children. How has the situation been handled in your church?