Don’t ask me why…I can’t really answer that. I don’t have a child or family member with autism, and so much of the excellent research and writing about autism is done by people who are directly affected by the condition.
…but me…I just ‘get it’. I can only say it is like God has planted this seed in my heart and mind and it is growing strong and healthy, without me having a say in it at all! If I have a calling, it is autism shaped. If I have a ministry planned by God, then he has equipped me with the knowledge and understanding to do his will.
“Autism is a lifelong condition, which affects how a person communicates, interacts socially, and can present difficulties or differences for the person in their thinking, imagination, perception and sensitivity of their senses.
As a spectrum condition, individuals with autism will share similar difficulties; however the way in which autism will impact on the individual is unique, with no two people with the condition being exactly the same.”
I use these statements at the beginning of the training I do for schools, charities, churches and anyone who wants to hear about autism. I then break it down to explain to people what life just might be like for someone with autism in the areas of communication, social understanding, thinking and perspective, and sensory experience. Over the years I’ve known and worked with children and people with autism / Asperger’s. I am fascinated by their perspective on the world and how the typical way others do and assume things, can cause them much confusion and anxiety.
I also have met some deep thinking, kind, generous and amazing people with autism. I have worked with children who cannot speak and whose communication has been through their behaviour. It is true, that there is no such thing as autistic behaviour…even at the point where no challenging behaviour shocks me any more, I can see that it is all just human behaviour.
I love to explain to people that there are things they can do to make life and school better for people with autism, and in my experience it begins with knowing what autism is. I love to see the ‘penny drop’ or the ‘lightbulb moment’ (meaning the point of really understanding that people with autism see and experience the world differently) because this leads to better relationships between teachers and their autistic pupils; parents and their autistic children; and people with their autistic friends and neighbours.
I have some general principles that I know work when it comes to strategies. These must always be adapted for the individual and where possible INCLUDE the person with autism in the strategy. This is not about doing something ‘to’ someone…it is about coming alongside, teaching, supporting and enabling a person to organise and mange their difficulties themselves. We need to listen to the voice, the views and the needs of each individual person with autism whilst teaching them things that enable them to be independent and stand up for themselves. We also need to understand that inclusion is the responsibility of all of us, working together to be the unit we are (family, school class, social group, church, friends, etc).
Some of the work that I love the most is with teenagers with autism/Aspergers in schools. I often work 1:1 or in small groups working through who they are and what autism is to them. I often teach the child how to understand themselves, celebrate their strengths and know that everyone has weaknesses. i learn so much from them too. I often use a book called “I AM SPECIAL” by Peter Vermulen and recently had the pleasure of meeting him at a conference. I showed him the work I had been doing and he was very impressed. In his email to me he said
” Thank you very much for your kind words and the very illustrative pictures. They are proof of the fact that you really understood the philosophy behind “I am Special” and that, on top of that, you are a talented, knowledgeable and creative teacher / consultant.”
and to be honest, that was such a thrill to me after years of feeling I was never good enough in the education system.
Autism is not going away. Children and adults with autism make up at least 1% of our population and this statistic is growing as more people get diagnosed and professional realise that girls and women have different features of autism that are only just being recognised.
As a Christian, I know God invites everyone into his kingdom. Learning how to communicate well with people with autism and listen to their individual and general views of the world, I am learning to communicate the gospel much clearer too. We have put many good communication strategies in place in our weekly group for adults with learning disabilties (some who have autism/Asperger’s) and I long to teach these to other churches too. I think it is early days, I think I can learn a lot from others who are autistic and/or advise churches about autism too. What I bring to the table is having known hundreds of children of all different ages with autism/Asperger’s over the past 10 years, I have a wealth of experience and practical strategies that have worked to build up the skills, acceptance and postive attitiudes of the children I have worked with. I have trained many teachers, social workers, support workers, parents and others – equipping them with knowledge and resources to make school, home and other places more accessible and successful for people with autism. Even years later, I still get feedback when people say how they learned so much from the training and that the strategies are still working!
I am stating facts here. Not to blow my own trumpet but to communicate that my passion for autism has a purpose in God’s Kingdom. I could ignore it, use it to make money, neglect it – but as with any passion from God – it is a gift to be nurtured, treasured and used for His will. I am very glad I am only one of many. It shows that God loves all people and he loves me too.
I am very glad I know that. I hope you do too…
And finally, this is for my wonderful friends who love their autistic children so much…