Creating Welcoming Spaces for Youth with Disabilities

Like most kids, Josh Davenport-Herbst has a hard time saying no to his parents, especially when it comes to showing up for stuff at church. But unlike most kids, both of Josh’s parents are PC(USA) pastors and unlike many of his peers, he doesn’t like to be around too many people, loud noises or too much excitement.

Josh is among nearly 5.5 million people in the U.S. with autism spectrum disorder. That means Josh has difficulty communicating and interacting socially with others, and the prospect of attending the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 2016 was a formidable challenge for him.

Held every three years, Triennium is a gathering that draws over 3,000 high-school-age youth, youth leaders and young adults. The Triennium’s plenary sessions are known for are their energizers, which may include flashing lights, loud music and loud voices. This made the event that much more daunting for the then 18-year-old, who is especially sensitive to his environment.

Josh’s father, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Davenport-Herbst, pastor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church in San Angelo, Texas, points out, “If you’re not the kind of person who thrives on that, there’s no place for you.” Yet he adds, “These folks need a youth group, too. These, too, are children of God.”

But then a door — actually, a balcony — opened. Tim saw a way for people to enjoy the experience away from the noise. Later, on Instagram, he posted, “Triennium opened the entire top balcony just so people with sensory issues could join in!”