Ask Mormon Girl: My son is 8 and autistic; should he be baptized?

I’ve been thinking about Mormons and disability quite a bit this week, as a new friend tearfully shared his own experience as the parent of a disabled son, and then, on Sunday, when at General Conference LDS Church leaders spoke quite comfortingly to families of people with disabilities. And lo and behold, this week’s query comes from a recent convert who lives in Holland:

We have a son of 9 years who has severe autism, but has beautiful blessings. You should hear him pray: often he gives feelings about others in his prayers where even we, adults/partents, didn’t think of.  On the other hand, sometimes he hardly can understand why something is wrong.

The question I have is “should we baptise him?” I know what doctrine dictates: it is a matter between parents, child and local priesthood. My son answered, “Yes,” when I asked two days ago if he wanted to be baptised. My [home teachers] also said “go ahead,” but I’m still doubting.

I’m seeking peer counseling: do you know about other parents of kids with ASS? What did they do?

Met vriendelijke groeten,

DG

Dear DG:

I’ve put your question out to friends who have relatives with autism.  I’m going to tell you a few things I’ve gathered from them, but I hope lots of readers will chime in and add their wisdom in the comments below.  The collective wisdom of AMG readers exceeds that of AMG herself.

A leading source of resources for LDS families with disabilities is here.  Many families also recommend this book.  And there is an internet discussion group for LDS families impacted by autism here.

Not surprisingly, families with kids on the Autism-Asperger’s Spectrum report that church is often an ordeal, for so many reasons:  the size, the noise, the three hour block.  Approaches to baptism run the gamut.  Some have baptized at eight; some have waited until an age beyond eight; some are still waiting—it all depends on the child.

I’ve just finished reading the British religion scholar Karen Armstrong’s book The Spiral Staircase, in which she describes (in a few chapters) her experience bringing an autistic young man to be baptized into the Catholic faith.  And I will offer one humble thought before I get out of the way and let others more knowledgeable speak to you.  If your child has expressed that he wants to be baptized, I’m thinking about Mosiah 18: 8 – 10, “As you are desirous to come into the fold of God . . . If this be the desire of your hearts, what have ye against being baptized?”

Readers, what do you think?  What support can you offer DG?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.

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45 Comments

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45 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: My son is 8 and autistic; should he be baptized?

  1. Leigh Statham

    Back in the day, primary presidents interviewed children before the bishop did for baptism. I had the opportunity of interviewing a handful of special needs children before they were baptized, including a few on the spectrum. It was not easy. It took much prayer and pondering to get the answer I did eventually and I’d like to share it with you. Many parents are afraid of making their childen accountable by baptizing them. Mainly because they know their children don’t understand this world. The truth is that they are accountable when they turn 8 anyway. By letting them be baptized you give them full access to the help of the Holy Ghost. If a child desires to be baptized we should honor that wish and go forward with faith and prayer, trusting that God holds us all in His hands. I was so grateful for my time as primary president with those kids. It prepared me to raise my own son, who is an Aspie and has a spirit and testimony greater than I will probably understand. Love to you and your family. Have peace in your heart whatever you decide.

    • Dear Leigh,

      Thanks for your answer. I’m a bit confused when you write “they are accountable when they turn 8 anyway”. That’s new to me. I always understood that this can depend on the intellectual and social skills of the child.
      But I feel lots of confirmation when I read your statement to offer them full access to the help of the Holy Ghost.

      Thanks for your advice,
      David

      • Jason

        You are right it definitely depends on the capacity of the individual. I think what Leigh meant was that just because a child isn’t baptized when they turn 8 doesn’t mean they’re not accountable–unless an individual has some handicap, they are accountable at age 8 regardless of whether or not they’ve been baptized.

        My personal feelings are that a person who is handicapped and desires to be baptized should be allowed to even though they may not fully grasp why baptism is important.

      • I’m surprised that this is such a struggle, to be honest.

        Isn’t it one of the greatest doctrines surrounding the atonement that we are only accountable for the light that we have? The age of 8 is a convention. It works as a rite of passage. It in no way marks the actual point when someone becomes “officially” accountable before God. If you baptize someone who is not yet fully accountable, in what way could that possibly harm them? If you baptize them after they become fully accountable, even that is extremely unlikely to have eternal consequences, as we believe in repentance and baptism for the dead.

        The reason we don’t baptize before the age of 8 isn’t so much that 8 is the “right” age to do it so much as it is a praise to the goodness and mercy of God in recognizing the pure souls of young children.

    • My youngest brother Abraham is Autistic. When he turned 8 years old my mother struggled with the same question. Although our situation was a bit different seeing that Abraham had not been diagnosed yet. It would be another two years before we got that diagnosis (it was the 90s).

      However, my mother realized that Abraham was different and that he might not understand his choice fully. Abraham was anxious and excited to be baptized, because all his friends were doing it. When our mother sat him down to explain why we get baptized, he didn’t seem to fully grasp the importance of it. So my mother decided to wait.

      Each year after his birthday she reevaluated whether she thought my brother would understand his choice. After his 10th birthday, he was finally able to explain why baptism is important and seemed to understand the decision he was making.

      Abraham is now 23, but emotionally he is still a teenager (about 17). He loves the gospel and wants nothing more to serve a mission, although he will never be able to.

      What is important to remember is not at what biological age a person baptizes, but whether they understand the covenant they will be making. Individuals are baptized at an age where (1) the church feels the child understands the choice they are making, and (2) have reached an age of accountability…when they know the difference between right and wrong. If a child (person) is unable to know the consequences of their actions, then they are still considered at an age of innocence. Since the church does not believe in “original sin”, there is no need to baptize that individual until they have reached the age of accountability.

    • urania

      my daghter will be 8 this fall she has autism and we plan to baptize her.. She understands very basiclly that she is choosing Jesus and HF and wants the holy Ghost,

      as a parent I was a little worried, but the more I pray the more I realize that HF will hold her accountable to her own capacity not mine or anyone elses

    • jace

      As a teacher of special ed students the number one thing I always have to remind myself, (or they will make sure to remind me) is that even the “lowest functioning” of the students could indeed have a mind capable of amazing things. The only problem is they are locked inside of themselves.
      Mothers have been dumb founded to find out thier extreamly autistic child, who has never communicated before in their life, suddenly find a keyboard and express their thoughts.
      This is an extreame example but I see small scenerios like this constantly.
      My point is, although you may have your reservations with going through with baptism just realize there is a small part in him for sure that understands. Whether he is capable of processing it in his brain, or the only part that understands is his spirit, he gets it.
      He has the free will to decide to take or reject all the blessing and covenents baptism entails.
      I like thinking of it the same way I do baptisms for the dead. I will do it, if they want it is up to them.
      Your son answered “yes.” I can picture some of my kids giving the same answer I also can picture them coming up to me beyond the veil and saying, “Hey, why’d you stop me?”

  2. Jim Pillow

    DG
    There is so much, much more.
    It’s about being able to lay your hands on your child’s head and giving the gift of the Holy Ghost. It’s about being a member of the same church with the rest of the Family. It’s about receiving a patriarchal blessing. And more, much, much more.

  3. andrew h

    If the child desires it, and will not be terrified by the experience, by all means proceed. But don’t force the baptism on the child either, don’t feel like it has to happen at a certain age. Let the child make the choice when he or she is ready.

  4. Christa

    I actually served my mission in the Netherlands about 4 years ago. I still keep in touch with several members, including a wonderful family in Zwolle who have dealt with a very similar situation. Although the child in this family didn’t have autism, there were some physical and mental challenges that led them to wait a long time until he felt ready for baptism. I would love to put this woman in touch with that awesome family! Sometimes it really helps to be able to talk about such sensitive topics with empathetic families who get your culture and speak your language.

    DG, ik kan je ervaringen en gevoelens niet helemaal begrijpen, maar ik ken mensen uit Nederland die oprecht mededeling hebben door hun familie situatie. Ik zou heel graag jou e-mail address (of naam of nummer) aan deze familie doorgeven. Ze zijn ook bekeerlingen, hoewel ze (de moeder en vader, bedoel ik) leden een heel lange tijd zijn geweest. Ze wonen in Zwolle; misschien ken je hen al, maar ze zijn echt lieve, vriendelijke mensen. Ik ben een vriendin van Joanna op facebook, dus als je het goed vindt, kan zij jouw naam aan me doorgaven. In ieder geval, je bent niet alleen. God zegent, en tot horens.

    • Beste Christa,
      Bedankt en je mag zeker aan Joanna mijn email vragen (of via mijn facebook link). Ik woon in België (Joanna heeft verkeerd gegokt denk ik met te zeggen dat ik in Holland woon).
      DG

  5. My autistic son turned 8 last year, and I had been against having him baptized because I didn’t feel he was accountable and he couldn’t understand abstract concepts like repentance and the Holy Ghost. I didn’t want to have him baptized just because he had a birthday because if a child isn’t accountable for his sins, what’s the point of the ordinance? But when it became clear to me that my son wanted to be baptized, I didn’t want to deny him baptism. I realized that a lot of my anxiety was over conflicting feelings I still had (still have) about his disability and my hopes for his future. Of course he didn’t really understand the full implications of what he was doing. When you get right to it, most adults don’t know what they’re really getting into when they get baptized. But he had a desire and I felt it wasn’t up to me to judge the quality of his desire, to say it wasn’t worthy. Maybe his baptism wasn’t theologically necessary, but it was important to him and it made him feel a part of our faith community, and for me that was reason enough to let him be baptized.

    God knows what’s in your heart as a parent and what’s in your child’s heart. You should do what feels right for your family. I worried about letting my son make the decision because he doesn’t have the same cognitive skills as other children his age–but I realized that the only alternative was making the decision for him, and that didn’t seem right either. I don’t regret letting my son get baptized. I think it was a positive experience for him (and frankly, for me).

  6. Well, I don’t know if my response will be useful for a lot of people, because I take a pretty loose view of the ordinances in general. I do not, and cannot, believe that a loving God would hold someone up on a technicality. If a special needs child is baptized without being able to fully comprehend that decision, and it turns out that later (in this life or the next) they regret that action, it’s not as if it’s a binding and unbreakable contract. As we are always saying regarding baptisms for the dead, just because someone is baptized – especially if it is done by proxy, or in this case the decision made partially in consultation with leaders or parents – does not require them to accept that baptism. It’s just the opportunity, having the option open should they choose to avail themselves of it.

    Conversely, if such a person is not baptized and they maybe could have been, or were actually capable of taking that upon themselves, God knows that person’s situation and their heart, and the hearts of their parents and leaders, and everyone who guided them through that process. Basically, I believe that it will all work out as it should, because if God is both just and merciful, then what other possible resolution could there be?

    If I go very far down this path, though, I find myself asking why ordinances are seen as so critical to salvation anyway, because surely God has the power to sort everything out and does, indeed, know all our individual hearts, and doesn’t need a piece of paper to know where we stand. But that’s a question I don’t yet have an answer to. :)

    Leigh, I can definitely see the flaw in the logic of not wanting to baptize to delay accountability, but in this situation, doesn’t the child’s accountability rest more with their mental and emotional capacity than their age? When you say “they are accountable when they turn 8 anyway”, surely there must be some (a lot) of wiggle room there if we are talking about children who are delayed, or special needs, or “atypical” to the point where we are having this discussion at all? I thought that doctrine was pretty well established, and it rings very true to me.

    • Wizzle, why are you talking about “a loose view of the ordinances” and “holding someone up on a technicality” and “wiggle room”? Why would God make rules that don’t have to be followed? Was He just kidding around…or have the prophets not told the truth? The question is, “Do you believe every doctrine is the inspired Word of God and do you do your best to obey in every single detail, or do you modify the doctrines to fit your own preferences?” If you decide to think for yourself about the nature of God and what the doctrines “should” be, and you invent the unauthorized concept of some wiggle room, haven’t you taken the first step down the road to appointing yourself as prophet and making up your own religion?

      • God is perfectly just AND merciful. Just = Laws, Mercy = Wiggle Room.

        Are you trying to pick a fight, kilimanjounal?

      • Tyler, I am sorry you choose to experience my questions as “picking a fight,” though I agree that the issue I raised is challenging. The problem with wiggle room is that if someone gets some, that leniency might define the actual limit, or there may be more wiggle room past that…in which case there really is no limit. But isn’t the Word of God about eliminating that kind of fuzziness? My questions about believing doctrine as written, or making up your own religion still stand.

  7. Dear Joanna,

    Thanks for you advice. Didn’t know the book, will order it right away.

    Especially the quote Mosiah 18: 8 – 10 gives me already a lot of peace? Thanks for sharing that: we’ll keep in mind certainly when we pray about it together with all the advice we’ll hear here.

    David

  8. Michelle Dye

    I agree with Leigh about these children needing to recieve the Holy Ghost. I think it is another way for Heavenly Father to help these children and their families.
    My husband didn’t have autism. He had severe intrusive thought OCD. He was afraid of everything. He had this problem for several years. In 2004, at 27 years old, before we got married, he was baptized. After that, I am talking in just a few days after the baptism. It was like night and day. I am not saying he was completely cured. But it was like his fears were leaving him. He still has bouts of it today. But he recognizes it for what it is. He handles it better. I know it is because he has the Holy Ghost.

  9. Andrea

    I get frustrated with a church culture which fosters such insecurity in ourselves that we constantly look to others for instructions, when we likely have the most pertinent knowledge, wisdom, and experience to make the decisions ourselves. The parents know the children better than anyone else. (Qualifier: selective input is good, but “tell me what I’m supposed to do” ….not so good.)

    God truly doesn’t care if a child is baptized or receives the gift of the Holy Ghost at exactly 8 years of age. You see, God isn’t like that. He would bless a child with spiritual guidance and acceptance into his fold, whether or not a formal ordinance was performed. So now the question is: Does the child want to go through with the ordinance? Will it make them feel like a “big” boy or girl and be empowering, or will it freak them out? I assume the answer will be different for each child.

  10. Marjorie

    I have a 12 year-old with autism who is not baptized. I have asked him if he wants to get baptized and he has always said “no.” (Of course, he usually answers “no” to all questions.) I don’t know what he understands about the gospel because while he can talk he only talks to request tangible items.

    The reality is that my son’s transgressions are covered by Christ’s atonement. He has no more need of baptism than an infant. I thought about having him baptized to give him the gift of the Holy Ghost because I didn’t want him to be deprived of something that could help him but ultimately decided that until he could demonstrate his understanding of the gospel and express a desire for baptism it isn’t necessary.

    But even if someone has no need of baptism I think it’s just fine to baptize them especially if they express a desire. If Will wanted to be baptized I’d have him baptized on Saturday. Or if I felt it was important or thought it would be helpful for one of my other children I’d baptize him for either of those reasons as well. Since your son said that he wanted to be baptized I would honor his request the same way you would honor another child’s request.

    Best ~ Marjorie

  11. cldstar

    I don’t know the answer in this case (and I hope that Heavenly Father will help you), but our case may be somewhat instructive. Our daughter, who will turn 8 in August, has Down Syndrome. Cognitively she’s much more like a 3 or 4 year old than a 7-going-on-8 year old. In fact, in some ways, she’s more like a 2 year old. She simply doesn’t understand (yet) what baptism is all about. We teach her just like we teach our other children, but she picks things up every so much more slowly. With a great deal of coaching, she could probably learn the “right” answers to a baptismal interview, but she wouldn’t (at this point) understand the real intent of the questions or the covenant she would be making. So, for now, we have decided that she won’t be baptized when she’s eight.

    I very much respect what Leigh Stathan posted earlier. I agree that a child who knows something of what is going on and (as Joanna said) has a desire to be baptized will likely benefit from the gift of the Holy Ghost. Accountability probably doesn’t attach at age eight automatically (I don’t see how it could in our daughter’s case– she simply doesn’t yet understand all the consequences of her actions). I’ve always thought that a mental age of eight might be the age of accountability (that, of course, is not doctrinal as far I know– just my two cents).

    Like so many parenting issues, this one takes time, effort, and seeking heaven’s help. I wish you well and hope God will be with you in this regard.

    • Ann

      My son has Asperger’s Syndrome. Before he was baptized, I worried about whether his baptism would happen without any problems. Before his baptism, my little boy would scream at the top of his lungs every time he took a bath or went in a swimming pool. Also, I wondered at his interview with the bishop if he actually understood what it meant to be baptized. I prayed that his baptism would be a meaningful experience for my son. His baptism turned out to be an incredible spiritual experience. I knew my prayers were answered when my son went into the water peacefully. I know that there is a power in getting the gift of the holy ghost. My boy’s understanding of gospel principles has grown by leaps and bounds since he was baptized. I think having the Holy Ghost helps my son cope with the everyday challenges of having Aspergers.

  12. Dr. Cole

    As a physician who has had many interactions with spectrum disorders, I would say…if your child says that he wants to, then go ahead with it. The beauty of the gospel is that your child will be blessed when they are baptized. I have full faith that Heavenly Father will ensure that your child will be taken care of because they desire to be baptized. As you know, your child isn’t that different from you and me when we were young. They still know the difference between wrong and right, sometimes they/we make good choices, sometimes they/we don’t. Let your child take this step, they are a very loved child of God and will be protected on so many levels.

  13. If your child wants to be baptized, then yes. Explain the best you can to his ability what that means.. God will see his desire and love and accept him for that desire, even if he doesn’t get “what that means” as well as his peers. I would argue that some people without disabilities may not FULLY understand the beauty of the Atonement. I know this has been said, but according to LDS doctrine, kids with disabilities don’t HAVE to be baptized, BUT that doesn’t mean they can’t be. Just so you know, accommodations can be made for HOW he’s baptized (he can have a cup over his head or be sprinkled if it would cause sensory issues- that’s what we’re doing w/ my daughter b/c she just can’t handle having her face in water.) Good luck, and I hope your son has a wond

    • *wonderful baptism experience (sorry my son hit enter on me.. lol)

    • thanks. I didn’t know that they could make special arrangements. I always thought that going under water was really necessary…

      But as I feel now, I agree that it hasn’t to be done, but that it can be done. And since he is asking for it and has definitely some feeling for the Holy Ghost, I think we have to proceed.

      We found out also that since he turned 9 last week, he is now a “convert” and has to be thought by the full time missionaries.

  14. Good answer, Joanna. Autism is a range of symptoms, not a specific disease as I understand it. I know kids who have standard autism and are very high functioning, one in our ward. His parents did wonders working with him from the very beginning. He’s awkward, but that’s all. Oh, smart as hell. I don’t know any severe cases, but regardless I can’t imagine any harm here.

  15. StillConfused

    My only comment is to PLEASE not force him to be baptized if he doesn’t want it. When my son was baptized, at the same time a family forced their Downs Syndrome Daughter to be baptized. “Forced” does not even begin to describe how horrible it was. The little girl was terrified and screaming. She was being bodily forced into the water. It was one of the most abusive things I have ever seen. I eventually just walked into the hall to wait until the nightmare was over. It still took a while after that. Of course, I don;t have a positive recollection of my son’s baptism because of this. No one can ever say that this is something that that little girl wanted.

  16. pensven

    Being “at one” with the family can be very important to an autistic child. Some friends who are Orthodox Jews told me about similar discussions regarding Bar Mitzvah. What he wants is so important.
    A friend with another special needs child faced similar questions regarding the Priesthood. She debated with herself about his abilities to understand. He wanted to be ordained. After discussing it with the Bishop, the boy was ordained. Did he understand all that is involved? With his particular limitations, he may simply understand that he has a special gift from Heavenly Father, that he is a helper for God, and that he is part of the Lord’s own Priesthood. (Maybe he understands more than some who just turn 12 and are ordained because the others do it.)
    I’ve worked with special needs kids. Desire seems to be the biggest issue here. And then, of course, we should not make the covenants seem to be greater than what he can understand at this time. Doesn’t God expect of us what we can give and not what our neighbor can (whether tithing or time, etc.)?

  17. Bodaggit

    I see a lot of comments here saying that he will be blessed by baptism, and the holy ghost will help him. I’m not sure that is true if baptism isn’t necessary. This of course depends on the degree of accountability that one obtains, but the truth is he is already blessed. By all means baptize if he shows a desire. My brother with a learning disorder was baptized at 8. He received the priesthood when he was about 32 and now with much assistance blesses the sacrament on Sundays. He loves being included in priesthood responsibilities. It would be unfortunate to not let him participate as a result of his disability since he has the desire.

  18. Violet Whittaker

    This is an excellent question, and dear to my heart since I was raised in a home with a severely autistic child. My parents never pushed baptism on any of us; this most certainly included the autistic child. That child is now an adult, and has still never expressed a desire to be baptized. Without knowing more about your situation, it seems to me that if your child understand enough to know he wants it, then you should let him follow his faith. In the end, it is between him and God anyhow.

  19. Anonymous

    I think this is up to the child, the parent and priesthood leaders.

    However, I would not be afraid to baptize an autistic child. If we are afraid of baptizing a child because we are afraid they won’t understand their covenants and somehow not make it to heaven seems pessimistic and fails to acknowledge the fairness, the mercy and the grace of God.

    When Jesus was asked who sinned, this man or his parents, He replied, No body sinned. This man was born blind so that the works of God may be manifest. Autistic children can teach us about God and make His works manifest.

  20. Johari

    Little children need not baptism. To take the admonishing and example of Christ’s baptism for all literally denies the spirit of the law or the grace of God. If we see the world in black and white, good standing – bad standing, righteous, unrighteous, worthy – unworthy, accountable – unaccountable, will prevent us to understand that the gospel or Jesus Christ lies center to the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law. Althought the Church often positions itself on the side of the letter, we are giving a heart, the spirit of God that whispers, all will be well with a righteous heart. If we do not excercise our God given agency to use our mind, heart and spirit to live our lives, then all you have is the letter to follow, a message that Christ had difficulty teaching his lost sheep, the tribe of Judah during his ministry. May we not make the same mistake. However, for me, living by the letter is much easier..less responsibility. What do i think…baptism is but symbolic, a religious practice and there is no saving power in the act or water itself. (a quote from an Apostle..sorry don’t have the name…but you’ll find it). Baptism describes the immersing process we go through as we learn the gospel. Baptism is then transformed through the Sacrament. It is all symbolic. In other words, don’t get hung up on the letter of the law…that’s the job of a church to set the law and the letter. Your job is to find peace whether you baptize or don’t baptize.

  21. I have a 17 year old autistic son. We did not baptize him.

    Why?

    The test for me was easy–he is not accountable.

    His intellectual capacity is not that of an 8-year-old.

    He is saved.

    There is no doubt that Christ’s redemption covered him fully.

  22. gs

    Normally “any” child, disabled or not, should decide if they “want” to be baptized and the Bishop of the child should decide if the child “should” be baptized.

    If a child (or anybody else) does not want to be baptized, under no circumstances should they be forced to. Regardless of whether the child is disabled or not.

    If a child that is 8 does want to be baptized, regardless of whether the child is disabled or not, the child’s Bishop is responsible for ensuring that the child understand the purposes of baptism, understands the baptismal covenant, and is committed to live by it. Because the Bishop has the Priesthood Keys in his ward associated with a child of record baptism, he also has claim to the guidance of the Spirit to determine whether or not they should be baptized.

    Parents need to trust their Bishop in making this decision if their disabled child wants to be baptized.

    If the child is 9 or older, disabled or not, the Full-Time Missionaries have the responsibility for ensuring that the child understands the purposes of baptism, understands the baptismal covenant, and is committed to live by it. Because the Full-Time Missionaries have the responsibility for a child that is 9 or older, they have claim to the guidance of the Spirit to determine whether or not they should be baptized.

    Parents need to trust the missionaries in making this decision if their disabled child wants to be baptized.

    As the Bishop and parent of an autistic child, I was faced with the task of deciding if my child should be baptized when he turned 8. Of course we wanted him to be baptized. Why not have that desire. If the Lord wasn’t holding him accountable the baptism and confirmation certainly wouldn’t hurt him, and if he was being held accountable they certainly would help him. He had the desire, but couldn’t stand going under the water. He had an 8 year old understanding of the gospel, purpose of baptism, and commitment to live by it, and our efforts to help him prepare to be baptized included helping him prepare to be immersed. I interviewed him, and felt the Spirit impressing me to allow him to partake of this blessing in his life. Yes, he’s still autistic, but at this point is a worthy young Aaronic Priesthood holder who passes the Sacrament each Sunday. He still has his quirks, but is a joy in our lives.

    As a Bishop I interviewed another young man who was autistic that had the desire to be baptized. He was approved and when he was baptized the first time he didn’t go all the way under the water. He didn’t want to be baptized again, and as his father was starting to push the issue, I stepped in to stop the Father. I dismissed those attending the baptism to wait for them back in the room where the speakers, and Confirmation were scheduled to be held. I briefly spoke to his distressed mother privately, asking her to remain at the font, and asked the other witness (the boys grandfather) to also remain. The boy had already gone up the font steps and was in the restroom planning to change. I spoke to his father and explained that if he didn’t want to do it again yet, we shouldn’t force him, but asked him to speak to him gently, without the pressing crowd and help him understand. His father went in with the boy and I heard him talking to his son in a very loving way, helping him understand the need to go back in the water. After a couple of minutes of discussion he finally decided “he” wanted to be baptized again, and the baptism was completed with the boy and his Father, his grandfather and I as witnesses, and his mother in the room. It was a beautiful moment. If the boy had not decided to be baptized, we would have simply completed the service without the confirmation, and planned a very private service with minimal attendees for whenever the boy decided it was time.

    The gospel is a beautiful thing, but removing the agency of the individual regardless of their disabilities is not an option in my book, unless their lack of experience and understanding could put them in dangerous place they cannot reasonable expect to know how to get out of. We have a very loving Heavenly Father that has always lived by that principal, and I feel it also applies to me as a parent and as a Priesthood leader as I strive to learn how to lead a Ward as well as my family in the way the Lord would.

  23. Gary

    I think that level of cognitive functioning should be a big consideration here. As a school psychologist, I have a pretty good handle of the level of functioning of the students on the Autism spectrum.

    In the above posts I read a number of times that the reason for baptising a child with a severe disability would be to allow them access to the “Gift of the Holy Ghost.” This assumes that children before the age of 8 or unbaptised disabled children do not experience this same relationship with the Holy Ghost. I do not think that this is true. The ordinance is Confirmation, where we are commanded to “receive the Holy Ghost.” We are entitled to this blessing upon confirmation. But it is incorrect to assume that pure children never had the influence of the Holy Ghost or even the companionship of the HG.

    I don’t think that baptising a disabled child makes them “accountable” either. It is not that black and white. To assume they are accountable removes God’s opinion of their accountability as well as the Grace of Jesus Christ. If the child is accountable (able to be held accountable) they should be baptised. If you are unsure if they are accountable and baptise them anyway and in Father’s eyes it wasn’t necessary, the child is not punished for that ordinance by becoming accountable. It was just unnecessary. Again, the Grace of Jesus Christ allows us to be imprecise and know that because our intent was correct all is well.

    Autism alone doesn’t mean a child can’t understand right from wrong. The level of cognitive impairment has a big influence on determining this. Some judgement may need to be made. Do so prayerfully and you won’t go wrong. The Grace of Christ fixes any “mistakes” we may have made.

  24. To me I would say yes. He doesn’t need to be baptized, so either way you will be fine. My first thought is Christ who we know is perfect was baptized. And how neat of an experience to have your son be baptized. I would say to let him! What a wonderful opportunity.

  25. Thanks for all your reactions.

    Based on all of this and lots of prayers and talking about it with my wife and branch president, and most of all, talking with our son himself, we have decided to start with the lessons and hopefully we can baptise him this summer.

  26. va mom

    My daughter has Down syndrome. She was baptized when she was 8. She had seen other (typical) kids be baptized when they were 8 and knew that was what “you did” when you turned 8. It was important to her to be baptized. She was afraid of the water, but showed great courage and trust in her dad. It was a spiritual experience for everyone present and she has good memories of that day. She is a beehive now and has attended to temple to do proxy baptisms. She is still afraid of being “dunked” and only does confirmations.

    We don’t know what a person’s capacity to understand right from wrong and it is not our place to judge. The decision to be baptized is an individual one and the desires of the individual must be considered.

  27. mommabearlds

    My son has Asperger Syndrome. We struggled with the whole baptism issue for several years before he turned 8. There were many factors involved, not the least of which was a tremendous fear of being under water. We put the question to our son, and let him make the decision on his own. After several summers of practicing “baptism” in our backyard pool so that he would become comfortable with the physical part of baptism, he finally asked to be baptized “for real”.

    As far as the accountability is concerned, there is no doubt in my mind that because our Father in Heaven knows His children better than any of us that He has a perfect understanding of what our (your) child is capable of understanding. Christ, our final judge, knows us as well. I have always considered these children as “special spirits”. I believe that they have been put in our trust for US to learn from them.

    I can’t possibly put this more eloquently than those who have commented previously, but they are on the right track. I believe that you should let your child decide when to be baptized (be it at age 8 or 60), and trust that the Lord will accept him, no matter what the final outcome is.

  28. SharonGoldstein

    I can think of absolutely no reason you should not baptize your son, especially if he wants it.

  29. Pingback: Autism Language » Helping A Child With Autsim | Helping A Child With Autsim

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