10 ways to help a family living with Autism in your congregation

Footie PJs
This is my son.  He has Autism.  He is also a sweet, funny, delightful child who never ceases to amaze me. In honour of World Autism Awareness Day I thought I would put together a list of some things that might help a family with Autism feel more comfortable in the Church. Because of my nomadic existence in ministry we have as a family travelled to many congregations and there are some things I’ve noticed about Churches that might make things challenging for families who have children with Autism or special needs in general. These may not apply to every family and it’s written from our personal point of view but I think it might be a good starting point for discussion and inclusion in our families and communities at large.

Number One: Please don’t tell me you feel sorry for me.

Also included in this would be a request to not tell me it’s a waste of a life or that he could’ve been so much more.  Sure sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I wish life was easier for him. Sometimes I wonder why it all happened. In all of that wishing and wondering though there is never a point at which I think his life is wasted or that I feel hard done by.  Life happens.  Sometimes things happen unexpectedly.  My son is a joy and a blessing.  While I might wish to make things easier for him I would never wish for him to be someone different.  I do not feel sorry for myself and I don’t want you to.

Number two: Think about moving a few pews up so families with children who have special needs can sit in the back.

This one is especially for you Presbyterians out there. I know everyone loves the back as I’m often up front alone. I know you want a quick exit so they can be the first to hit the brunch line at the Holiday Inn. For our sake however I would ask that you consider surrendering the back pew for us and families like us. Our son has some sensory issues which make loud music at times hard for him to handle. Somedays he’s just fine and on others it’s tough. We don’t want to disrupt the service so leaving us with the quick exit would be very kind. I assure you should we run into each other at the Holiday Inn I will be glad to let you go first in the buffet line!

Number three: Please don’t tell me he ‘should’ be downstairs.

There are some people who think all children should be in Sunday School. I know that’s how it used to be. I also know that you’re running a wonderful program and many children would love it. Unfortunately for our son who struggles with communication and social interaction it can be overwhelming for him. We are working together as a family to make these things easier for him. There are weeks where we can power through and others where he needs space upstairs. It’s not that we don’t appreciate your program or value what you offer we just need to listen to his needs and do what’s best for him.

Number four: Include many different types of learning styles and engagement in your Sunday School Program.

If we manage to convince X that Sunday School is a good idea we’ve found many learning styles keeps things moving nicely.  This one really benefits all children when you think about it! Incorporating physical, listening and visual learning styles into the Sunday School Program helps more children engage. Each child has different strengths and weaknesses. By including a variety of activities and means of engagement you’re more likely to catch the attention of each child and find ways to include them all. This keeps things moving and fresh which allows for less downtime and reduces the potential for meltdowns. Also please don’t feel bad if a parent happens to stay downstairs with a child who has autism.  It’s not that they think you can’t ‘handle’ it. It’s that they are there to support their child as they navigate a potentially tricky situation for them.

Number five: If you want to chat with him following the service be sure to pause a little while you wait for his answer.

Each person with Autism is different so this may not apply to them all but one thing I have noticed is that children with autism may need a little more space in the conversation to process the words and craft a response.  If my son takes some time answering after you’ve spoken to him he’s not ignoring you, he’s thinking. If he doesn’t seem to grasp what you are saying after a few moments try a different way of phrasing the question. This would help a lot with interactions. Often times I see people come up to X. and start to talk then leave quickly and miss his response. He wants to engage, just give him the time necessary to do so.

Number six: Don’t stare.

If a meltdown does occur please don’t stare. While we try to avoid them sometimes meltdowns happen unexpectedly. We are lucky that our son loves church but he’s five. Any child who is five has moments of great drama. Add to that a communication deficit and sometimes you have to work hard to figure out where the drama is coming from and why. A ‘shh’ or ‘be quiet’ doesn’t always work and these meltdowns happen unexpectedly. When you stare we feel more awkward than we already did. We are aware it’s not ideal but want to worship with you. Please understand we are doing our best and sometimes things happen without rhyme or reason.

Number seven: Recognize he’s an individual.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘When you’ve met one child with Autism you’ve met one child with Autism’.  This is very true! He’s an individual. He is not an autistic child. He is a child with Autism. Aside from the Autism he has a personality of his own. There are definite likes and dislikes that he has the same as anyone. Ask him about his cars. Talk to him about his favourite movies. Take time to really discover who he is. He’s a sweet, funny boy. Don’t be afraid of the differences. Embrace him for who he is, Autism and all.

Number eight: Don’t side-step or avoid us. 

We want to feel like we’re part of the community of faith. Don’t avoid us because you don’t know what to say. Just treat us the same as any other family. Ask us how therapy is going. Ask us what we did on the weekend. We would love to hear how you’re doing as well.

Number nine: If you are curious, ask! 

If you don’t know what Autism is and would like to know more, ask! If you’re curious as to why X. isn’t in school, we would love to engage you and help you understand how we are trying to help him. Things might be different for our family and we know that to some it seems odd. We are happy to point you to resources and explain our situation so you might better understand.

This leads me to the bigger point. If you are curious or wondering how you might make the church a more inclusive or welcoming place, ask. Families with Children who have special needs would love to help you understand what might make the church a more welcoming, helpful place. It’s hard to know what’s needed unless you ask.

Number ten: Love him and share God’s love with him regularly. 

He is a child of God. He loves church. He wants to be part of things and feel like he’s part of the community. The best thing you can do for him is to shower him with love. Show him he is welcome here. Show him he matters to you and to God.

And that about sums it up for me.  Is there anything I’ve left out?  If so, leave a message in the comments and keep the conversation rolling!  

Promised peace.

I was the first up in the house this morning.  While that used to always be the case I’ve found in the last few months more often than not one of the boys is greeting me before dawn demanding action and adventure.  When you’re young life is always an adventure and where there’s adventure there is sure to be action.  Anyways I had peace this morning.  So much peace that I was able to catch up on some reading and meet Jesus first thing.

I needed this time today. Lately I’ve found myself pulled and tugged as we work through some difficult programs in therapy.  I have been struggling with doubts and worries about my abilities and strength.  I am at times consumed with thoughts of the future and what it might hold for my son.  I’m also working this weekend so I’m really having to fight to find good moments in which to prepare.  It can be a less than peaceful existence if I don’t stop and take time to meet God, to remember that I am not the one who holds it all together.  To remember that he carries me through and provides me with strength.

In my morning reading I came across a verse that was a great reminder those very things. Jesus gave peace to us freely and reminds us to lay our troubles and worries down. His peace is always there, always available if we look for it and listen for him.  As I walk through today I find myself looking for moments filled with that peace and I know I am not the only one this Holy Week feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. Whether you’re cooking dinner for 15 or leading worship multiple times this week my prayer for you is that you find the promised peace and meet God in the journey as we travel towards the open tomb.

His Peace

Proof there is a God…

…or at least that we were created to worship?

Yesterday the internet broke when news broke that Zayn Malik left the band One Direction. Horror! How could it be? How could one young man decide that he might want to leave and live a normal life?

1D1

Truthfully I’m blown away by the intensity of the reactions. I was part of the NKOTB era and when they ceased to exist we just moved on.  These reactions did make me think though. What we spend our time and energy on is in fact the focus of our lives. This ‘worship’ of celebrity is just a substitution for the worship of God. Can you imagine how the world would change if we invested as much energy in faithfully following Jesus as our society tends to invest in celebrity idol worship? How much love we could spread, time we could invest and people we could serve? It seems to me this is a good time for all of us to think about how we use our time, how we invest our love and energy.

If you’re a a 1D fan I’m sorry for your loss but take heart, Zayn is not dead he’s merely chosen a different path. If you’re not a 1D fan I feel you. I’m not either. It is however a good time to think about the idols in your own life. Have you shifted focus away from God? Are you pointed in the right direction?

It’s a sad day for many 14 year old girls out there.  I hope it gets easier for them…

It’s been 8 years…

Sunday morning rolled around like it does every week.  We got up and ate oatmeal.  Enjoyed a leisurely coffee and then as always one of us (usually me) looks at the clock and we realize we must race to get ready to make it to the church on time.   We slid into the pews at the back, greeted my mom and settled in for announcements.  When the minister (my dad) asked who had an anniversary this week I was super grateful that he had forgotten the anniversary in my life.  My hands slid under my bum and I shrunk down.  It’s been eight years.  It’s been a long time.  This week, eight years ago I was ordained.  This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around this and I wasn’t ready to to talk about it.

Eight years ago I stepped into what I thought would be my life, my calling.  I figured it would be an adventure of sorts.  I felt completely unprepared and I wasn’t.  I have learned over the years from many mistakes and would say that I’m much better at certain things now than I once was.  I have some joys to look back on and other things I regret.  It’s been a journey.  It’s been something.

I’m a little unsettled about it all if I’m going to be honest.  I’ve worked full time in ministry for 25% of the time I’ve been able to.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I didn’t expect to have things work out the way they have.  No one does, do they?  It’s a beautiful life I’m living so I can’t complain.  I have a lovely family and our days are filled with joy and laughter.  There are joy-filled moments, hard moments and all kinds of other moments in between.  I’m not sad about things, more reflective as I reach this milestone.  I seem to have lost my voice in the midst of all the things happening around me.  It’s interesting and sad and perplexing really.

I think this is why I call Autism the great silencer.  It’s funny when you think about it.  As X. develops more and more skills involving communication I feel as though I’m loosing my ability to communicate.  The farther away I get from things the harder it is to fight my way back to where I was.  I wonder what happened to the things I felt I had to say, to do, to be.  I wonder why God at times seems so silent.  I wonder when I will find my voice again.

Eight years ago this week I was ordained.  Why?  I’m not entirely certain.
I suppose God knows.
One day I may know as well.
One day the answer that I seek will likely arrive in a most unexpected way.

One day I will know.
One day…

She eats plants…

It’s a beautiful day here.  The sun is shining and I can see grass.  I’ve been waiting for days like this.  It’s heavenly.   I’ve found myself getting antsy lately as we’ve been stuck indoors for a few months.  We were able to escape here and there but not at all as much as we might’ve liked and it’s absolutely marvellous to be able to go for walks again.  It’s like Easter is happening before my eyes.  I can see new life.  I can breathe in potential.

Speaking of new life and potential I thought I’d let you know about something knew that I am trying.  In the past on this blog I featured faith and food.  It was good but at times I felt pulled in different directions and wasn’t certain where I was going or what I was writing about.  I’ve decided to split these two things and have two separate areas to write about the things I’m passionate about.  This blog will remain as it always has been a place for my stories, my faith and exploration.  I’m moving food to a new location.  I’ll be chronicling my kitchen adventures at sheeatsplants.com from now on.  From time to time I may have a post here that lets you know what’s going on there but I think this new plan should keep things more focused and  prevent scatter.  I’m all about streamlined living.

I hope you’ll join me over at She Eats Plants.  I love to cook and enjoy sharing recipes.  It’s something I have loved doing here but it’s time for a change and I think this will be a good thing.   I also look forward to sharing more on this blog.  I feel with the sun pouring in and fresh air all around inspiration may be something I might have in the near future.  It was a long hard winter.  I’m looking forward to spring.

Hello Mornings

Hello Mornings

Are you looking for a little something to get you moving in the mornings?
Do you find yourself struggling to make room in your life for quiet time and reflection?

I do. It’s something I battle with regularly as life is busy. As part of my constant desire to overcome these two obstacles I’ve been part of the Hello Mornings Challenge since 2012.  The Hello Mornings challenge was originally conceived as a way to encourage Christian women to get up early and meet Jesus first, the day second. I have found my time with the challenge to be incredibly rewarding.

The group I’m part of right now on Twitter has been together in one form or another since 2013. We meet each morning online to greet one another in prayer, through scripture and as well as sending kind thoughts and encouragements. Our group has been as small as 8 members and as large as 15 as people cycle in and out depending on the seasons of their lives. Right now we’re about to enter a new 6 week session and I thought as this challenge has benefited me so much I’d encourage you to check it out.

If you’re not on Twitter have no fear. There are Facebook groups and Instagram girls. There are over 200 leaders of various groups waiting to offer encouragement, support and accountability as you strive to change your morning routine. The commitment isn’t long. Each challenge runs for 6 weeks with a 2 week break until the next session. There are studies and other resources offered as a guide and encouragement for each participant.  It’s very flexible and no one pounces on you if you can’t make it one day. They just want to see you thrive in your walk with Jesus. It’s really a fantastic ministry and I feel blessed to have been a part of it.

I’d love to have you as part of our group (#MJAD – Meeting Jesus at Dawn) on Twitter or someone else would like to have you as well.  Registration is this week (it’s free!) and you can find out more here at the Hello Mornings Challenge page.

P.S. – There is no need to stick with their recommended study! While it does look interesting (it’s on the Psalms) there is no need to deviate from your schedules reading and reflections if you don’t wish to. Hello Mornings is there to offer prayer and support regardless. I’m planning to read the above book in the next session while also checking out various aspects of their study. It’s all about what works for you.  

This is the day?

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This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it?

It’s cold here. Bitterly cold but there are blessings to be found. The sun rises a little earlier each morning as a reminder that summer is indeed coming.  A sign that the dead cold of winter will give way to new life. We will see spring again.

These reminders seem appropriate during Lent. Death will give way to life. We walk through darkness to get to the light. We are a people of the resurrection and if we persist, if we push through those bleak periods we see it happen over and over again.

It may be cold but this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Make time.

make timeThere are cars on the sofa and baby toys strewn across the floor.  The dishes aren’t quite done and the floor could use a good scrubbing.  My house is not perfect yet here I sit coffee in hand because my mother told me to capture moments of rest in the day so I’m attempting to listen.  Attempting is the key word in that sentence.  I’m not good at leaving things alone.  I’m not good at not tidying, not fussing, not doing.  When I let the desire take hold I find myself tidying and fussing and doing all my time away in the day.  That rest time when the baby rests.  The quiet time when my little one is in therapy.  Today I am sitting and ignoring.  Well not ignoring precisely.  Instead I’m choosing to set aside my instinct and take instead what is needed, a moment for myself.

That moment seems selfish, doesn’t it?  Whether you’re a working mom or dad, a single individual or a person who has responsibilities here unnamed we all feel guilty for taking moments, stealing time and just sitting still.  It is important to just exist.  It is important to steal those moments.  How do I know this?  Well I know it from personal experience as I feel so much better when I’ve stolen some moments but I also know this because of how Jesus lived.  He stole moments.  He moved into gardens and went up mountainsides.  When he needed a break he took it.  He saw value in silence, in stolen moments with God.  He knew how important it was to relax, to rest and listen.

When we are too busy to sit still we fail to hear the whispers of God.  When the rustle of paper and the clanging of silverware takes over our lives the voice we long to hear is muffled and faint.  We need this time.  We must make it a priority.

If you find yourself wondering what that muffled voice is saying take a moment and breathe. If you find yourself doing so much that you no longer even hear it, stop and sit. Steal a moment and reflect. This season of Lent is a time of contemplation, reflection and connection.

Make time in your day to connect.
Make time. It’s important.
Make time for God.
Make time.

And so it begins…

Lent begins today. It’s a season of contemplation, of preparation. A season where we think about the gift that has been given and attempt to really understand what the whole story of Jesus truly means for us, here in this time. I’ve decided to undergo some preparations myself and I know I usually say I’m going to add something to my life with the intent of impacting the world or even just my own life in a positive way but this year I’m giving something up. What am I giving up? I’m not going to weigh myself every day.

Big deal you think? It is a big deal for me. I’m a compulsive weigher. I think it started when I lost a considerable amount of weight a few years ago. I was absolutely petrified it would come back if I wasn’t vigilant. There’s something to be said for vigilance. Statistically those who stay on top of their weight loss are more likely to succeed or so I’ve read, don’t quote me on that. I know I need to be mindful and continue to make healthy choices. That said, the weighing myself daily is taking a toll on the way I see myself. I need to distance myself from the scale and embrace who I am separate from what I weigh. I have committed to weighing myself once a week at the same time. I still want to stay on top of things and continue to care of myself but I don’t want it to be something I obsess about.

What does this have to do with Lent and spiritual progress? I happen to have 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 hanging on my mirror in my bathroom. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Before you jump all over me I know it’s about sexual immorality if you look at the greater text but I think it also applies to how we treat our bodies. We need to honour God by treating our bodies well. We need to honour the body not just in regards to sexuality but also in how we care for it. I’m not honouring God when I scarf down 1/2 a pizza and refuse to exercise nor am I honouring God when I feel my value lies in what I weigh instead of who God created me to be. There needs to be a balance somehow.  A way to enjoy our bodies while caring for them.  I’m seeking to find that balance.  I’m looking for a way to honour God and give thanks for the great things this body he’s given me can do while caring for it.  

My body was made by God, shaped for me.
I want to feel comfortable in it.

So this Lent I shall strive to feel comfortable in my own skin without obsessing about how much that skin weighs.  I’m going to make better choices and continue to avoid chocolate because it’s my own personal kryptonite.  I know it may not seem like a lot to you but for me, it’s going to be tough.