Monthly Archives: August 2012

Parenting and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Part 2

This week we are focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorders. On Monday, we heard from a mom who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. She shared with us what she wishes others would consider before judging her situation, and how parenting her son has been a blessing. Today we will hear from a speech-language pathologist who will give us some helpful hints in teaching your children to be more sensitive to individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum.

Day 2…

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14

By: Laura Merriman*

As a middle school speech-language pathologist, I have worked with numerous children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).  The spectrum encompasses everything from the non-verbal child with severe Autism, to the highly intelligent child with Asperger’s Syndrome, and everything in between.  No two children with ASD are alike, but they do share some similar characteristics.  Over the past few years, God has given me a passion for working with these children and their families. 

Working with middle schoolers, I see how children with Autism are treated on a daily basis.  Some of their “typical” peers are kind and compassionate, while others are bullies.  Some of the compassionate ones will stand up to a bully or talk to a teacher, while others will stand aside and watch it happen.  Often, I think the “typical” peers just don’t know what they can do to help!  They know that the student with Autism is different, but they don’t understand why or how to interact with him/her. 

If you or your children have ever wondered, “How can we be more sensitive to individuals on the Autism Spectrum?” here are a few things to think about:

  1. Social skills:  Making friends, joining games at recess, having lunchtime conversations, making eye contact — all of these things can be very difficult for children with Autism.  A friend of mine, who has an amazing son with Asperger’s Syndrome, shared this insight with me:  “Teach your child that kids with ASD are just like them in so many ways. They want to be loved, have friends, and feel comfortable… it just often takes a little more effort to get to know them.  But when you do, they can be the very best friend you ever had! They tend to treasure their friends because they often have precious few. A child that is willing to reach out to a child with ASD is nothing short of a hero. Sometimes kids assume that when they see a child alone on the playground, or eating alone at lunch, that it is their choice and they just prefer to be alone… but in many cases they just simply don’t know how to be with others socially, and they may have failed so many times, that it just hurts too much to try anymore. Go ahead and ask if they mind if you sit with them or play with them.”  Wise words.
  2. Blunt comments:  Sometimes kids on the Autism Spectrum can be very blunt.  They might say things that sound rude, but they aren’t intending their words to come across that way!  In fact, you will often find that children with Autism are extremely honest.  They say what they are thinking (which might be what you are thinking too!), and they haven’t learned what sorts of comments should be kept to themselves.  They may have to be told explicitly, “It is not nice to tell someone who their hair looks weird.  It will make that person feel sad.”  Don’t let the blunt comments hurt your feelings – just keep in mind that the child with Autism has trouble thinking about how someone else feels, and he/she is still learning how to interact with others.  He/she is learning how to “do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19) with his/her words.
  3. Limited interests:  Some children on the Autism Spectrum love to create things with Legos, some are experts on dinosaurs, some may be fascinated with ocean animals… or trains… or cars… or Star Wars… you get the idea.  At times, children with Autism can become so absorbed in their activities that it can be hard for others to find a way “in.” If you are finding it hard to break into the child’s world, learn to be GENTLY intrusive.  Don’t touch or take away the item of interest, but sit down next to the child and ask about what he/she is playing with – you might get a monologue of the various detailed parts of a train engine, but be patient!  If you can talk about the child’s interests with him or her, then you are IN.  That child will remember that you listened and will probably seek you out in the future. 
  4. Meltdowns:  When a child with an ASD is very upset, the instinct for a sweet-natured peer is to console the person and see what is wrong.  While this is a very compassionate reaction, the child with Autism probably needs some time to calm down and regain his/her composure before he or she will be able to talk about the issue.  In fact, approaching him/her in the middle of a meltdown might make things worse!  The child with autism may not be able to express exactly what caused him or her to get upset in the first place, and being confronted about it (even if the intention is kind) might elevate the stress level.  Once the child with the ASD has calmed down, then he or she might be ready for someone to say, “What made you so upset?” or “I’m so sorry you were sad. Do you want to play with me now?”
  5. Sensory issues Often children with autism have a difficult time processing the world around them, including what comes in through their five senses.  Strong smells may upset them, bright lights might scare them, environments with too much noise or light or movement may cause them to become stressed (imagine school cafeterias… or children’s worship time at church, for that matter!).  Since Autism also affects the child’s ability to express himself, he might get very upset about the noise/lights/movement and then not be able to tell you what is wrong!  I have seen full-blown fits erupt from situations like this.  Every child is different, but be a detective.  Try to discern what part of the environment is stressing the child, and then calmly try to remedy the situation.  If you can’t seem to help, then ask his or her parents.  They have undoubtedly dealt with the sensory issues in past situations and can be a wealth of knowledge on how THEIR child needs to calm.
  6. Differences While people with Autism share common characteristics, remember that each person is unique with his/her own strengths and challenges.  As a parent, it seems obvious to teach our kids that they should be kind to people who look differently than they do.  However, children with Autism do not look any different than their typical peers!  Be sure to teach your children that people are different on the outside AND on the inside.  The mother I previously quoted states it so well:  “Some people are different in the way they see the world, the way they learn, the way they act and the way they think!”  If your child is old enough to read chapter books, check out Rules by Cynthia Lord.  It is a great teaching tool, from the perspective of a girl whose younger brother has Autism.
  7. Love the puzzle:  No one understands everything about Autism — that’s part of the reason that its symbol is a puzzle piece!  Here’s the good news: you don’t have to understand everything about Autism in order to be kind, compassionate, and Christ-like.  “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” -1 John 3:18
Noah is a student at Bentonville High School. He has Asperger Syndrome. He made the following video to share a little bit about what it is like to be an “Aspie.” If you have older children, I highly recommend showing this video to them! They might know someone who is a lot like Noah, and this might give them some perspective on how to treat someone who is different. Noah and his mother came to speak at my school last year, and it was a powerful experience. One middle school student asked him if he would choose to have Asperger’s, if that was possible. Noah answered that he would choose to have it – he is gifted in many areas, and he understands that he is very blessed to be able to see the world from such a unique perspective. Wow!
 
In preparation for this post, I asked Noah’s mother if she had any thoughts on what Christian moms need to know about how to treat children with ASD.  This was her response:  “I don’t even know where to begin. One thing that sticks out to me the most is that I had a hard time coming to terms with his diagnosis and sadly spent some time angry and questioning why God would give me this difficult child. As Noah grew and after we empowered him to understand what was happening with him is when I began to see what a blessing, not a bad thing, it was that my son was autistic. I still have moments of frustration, but I remind myself that I have been given this challenge because God obviously thought I could handle it! “

 *Laura is a speech-language pathologist at a middle school in Bentonville, AR.  She has been married to her husband Larry for 11 years, and they have two beautiful children – Lucas (7) and Lydia (5).  She graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2003, worked for a little over a year, and then stayed home with her children for four years while they were young. Laura went to work for the Bentonville school district in 2008.  She says, “I love Jesus, I love my family, and I love my job!  I am blessed beyond measure.”

Parenting and Autism Spectrum Disorders: Part 1

This week we are going to focus on Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Today, we will hear from a mom who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome.  She shares with us what she wishes others would consider before judging her situation, and how parenting her son is a blessing. On Wednesday we will hear from a speech-language pathologist.  She will give us some helpful hints in teaching your children to be more sensitive to individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum.

 So here we go…Day 1

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven.”  Matthew 18:10

 By Guest Contributor Julie Delucchi*

Parenting is hard no matter what your situation may be. But in my experience, parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (which is a form of high functioning Autism) can feel as though I wake up to a puzzle every day.  Some days, the pieces fit together exactly as they did the day before. Some days, the pieces are completely different from the day before.  And some days, it seems as though I am trying to put the pieces together backwards, upside down and blindfolded.  There are people who understand and accept our situation, and then there’s 99% of the rest of the world.  People who accept my child accept him for the way he is, not the way they think he should be.  Our family has faced many cruel challenges, not because he is on the Autism Spectrum, but because people are not informed about Autism—especially high functioning Autism.  Trevor is “normal” looking; he does not in any way appear to be disabled.  I am under the impression that there are many people who think people with Autism are like Rain Man or Forrest Gump.  I can assure you my child is far from either of those two stereotypes.  I try to be level-headed and give people the benefit of the doubt that they are just not educated about Autism, but sometimes I seriously wonder why people think they can make inappropriate (and sometimes even extremely hurtful and offensive) comments to me either about my son or about my parenting.  I have made a list of some things that I would like to share with you about dealing with parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

1-      Asperger’s Syndrome is a medical condition; it IS NOT a choice.  I realize that some of the things my son does can appear to be a “behavioral problem,” but I can assure you that it is part of his disability.  He is deficient in social graces, therefore, if he has a tantrum in public, it is because his brain does not tell him that a tantrum at age 8 is not appropriate. 

2-      If you are aware a child is on the Autism Spectrum, please address it as so.  Using terms like “he has problems” or “he has issues” is not appropriate to say.  A few years ago, a preschool director told other parents that our child was “mentally retarded.”  Mental retardation is another medical condition, but it is not the medical condition my child has.  Therefore, it is not appropriate to use that term to describe a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. 

3-      Please do not offer unsolicited parenting advice.  (Have you tried ____?   Do you know about the “Autism Diet?”  Have you heard about ____?  Yes, I have heard about and tried many things.  In fact, researching Asperger’s is part of most days around my house.)  My husband and I are not bad, uneducated parents, and our child’s Autism is not a result of our parenting.  We parent probably much differently than most other parents in a lot of ways because of necessity.  When Trevor was 3 years old, I will never forget the horror of a lady parked next to me when she saw I had my child in a headlock in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  What she didn’t realize is that had I not gotten a hold of him like that, he  most definitely would have run right out in the middle of traffic without looking.  His brain had not developed any form of fear at that point, and it was either grab him like that, or watch him get ran over.  I know it was probably not acceptable parenting by most standards, but if people had only known how strong and how strong-willed he was, I doubt there was a parent who wouldn’t have supported that decision at that time.

4-     Our lives are not a TV show.  I love watching Parenthood and The Big Bang Theory, but Max and Sheldon are characters on television shows.  Yes, there are some similarities, and I am glad that there is something that is bringing some awareness of high functioning Autism, but we live real lives.  Our child has Autism 24 hours a day.  Things rarely work out perfectly in our lives, but we still consider ourselves to be blessed beyond measure.

5-      I think it is important to understand that a lot of us with children with Autism live very isolated lives.  This was especially true when Trevor was really small.  My husband and I still don’t socialize much.  After having two churches ask us to leave because of our child, we did not even attend church for several years.  On the bright side, after Trevor asked and asked to go to the church where my daughter went to Mother’s Day Out, we started going.  It has been a wonderful experience.  The people there have been extremely nice and tolerant, and I know that God lead us there.    

6-    We plan as much as we possibly can.  Change is hard for our child, so if we stick to a routine, life runs a lot smoother.  If you have plans with a family who has a child with Asperger’s, and a change in plans is going to occur, please let the parent know as soon as you can so that the child can be prepared.  We went to a party one time that was supposed to be with just a few people Trevor knew.  When LOTS of additional people started showing up that he did not know, I could tell it was a matter of time until he was going to have a meltdown.  So we had to leave which led to a meltdown in the car, but at least it wasn’t seen or heard by a bunch of strangers.

7-    Just because you might know a child with Autism does not mean you know about my child with Autism or someone else’s child with Autism.  They truly are very unique, but this does not make them “weird” or “odd.”  They may have qualities that appear to you as “weird” or “odd,” but I’d be willing to say that there isn’t a person who doesn’t have at least one behavior that others might look at as being “weird” or “odd.”  I know that God made my son the exact way that He wanted him to be, and I will always consider both of my children to be gifts from above!

8-       And finally, I highly urge you to educate yourself about Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Whether you can accept it or not, ASD diagnoses are on the rise, and you already are affected by Autism.  I don’t know what is causing children to have Autism, and I do not know why I have a child with Asberger’s Syndrome other than the fact that it was God’s intention for me and my husband.  I had a normal pregnancy, I did not drink or do drugs, I ate healthy, I followed all the guidelines of how to have a “normal” pregnancy.  But I have a child with Autism, and to be very honest, I would not change Trevor in any way.  Despite the fact that at times parenting has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and people have been blatantly cruel, and there have been some days I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out of bed, I always got through it. 

I love Trevor with every ounce of my being.  I see the way he looks at my 102-year-old grandmother and the way he treats her with dignity and love, and my heart just about explodes with happiness that he can see her with such pure love.  I look at the way Trevor loves the Lord and craves His word and wants to learn about Jesus.  I look at the way that Trevor tries to help people by holding the door open for them, and he does it just because he feels it is the right thing to do.  I look at Trevor and I see the love he has for me and for my husband, and how he frequently tells me how much he loves us.  I see Trevor as the handsome, highly intelligent little boy who has brought our family so much joy.  It is my desire that other people (not just a select few) will look at my son and see that he is a gift from God, perfectly made, and a blessing to all who get to know him for the amazing person he is.  

 *Julie has two awesome children, Trevor (8) and Audrey (4.). She has lived in NWA her entire life. She has been married to her wonderful husband, Matt, for 13 years. And after 12 years of teaching preschool, she decided to be a stay at home mom starting in 2010. She says she loves her life and is blessed beyond measure!

Great Teaching and Prayer Tool

by: Kerri Young

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9

Something that is close to my heart is God’s desire for all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues to come to know Him. Because it is close to my heart, I want my children to learn as much as they can about not only God’s heart for the world, but about unreached people living all over the world. I was privileged to grow up with a daddy in the military, so I was born in the Philippines and lived in Japan for four years while growing up. I would not trade the experiences I had meeting beautiful people from other cultures and seeing firsthand just how creative our God is.

While my children will soon get to experience life outside of their passport culture, too, I thought it would be great to start to open their eyes to the world out there already. And I also wanted to teach them the importance of prayer. So, lo and behold, someone recommended this great resource: Window on the World: When We Pray God Works, by Daphne Spraggett and Jill Johnstone.

While the reading in this book is a little too much to keep my three-and-a-half year-old’s attention, my just-turned-seven year old loves it. We typically read part of it during the day and finish with the prayer requests at bedtime so they are fresh when we pray. There are beautiful pictures, interesting stories about history, children, and culture in each country, specific prayer requests you can pray through with your kids, and sometimes there are even “language lessons” with common words in whatever language the people of the country you are reading about speak. (My daughter really LOVES that!)

All that said, I highly recommend this book if you want to expose your grade school children to other cultures and encourage them to pray for unreached children around the world. We have been using the book for about a year now and I can honestly say that it has been just as much fun for me to read and learn as it has been for my daughter.

Mirror, Mirror

by: Kerri Young

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

I’m going to be really honest with you because I had an incredibly crushing and humbling experience the other day and I like to believe the Lord wants to use our mess-ups and life experiences to help others not do the same silly things we do.

Even though it is no excuse, my life is incredibly insane right now. Between my husband’s full-time job recruiting, my should be part-time but feels at least like ¾ time job coaching, the full-time job of partner raising for our upcoming adventure across the world, preparing to take on another full-time job of homeschooling, and the more than full-time job of parenting three young children, my husband and I are stretched thin some days. Okay, many days.

Lately our conversations revolve around romantic things like who’s writing what thank you and would you please pick up a package for me from my office? Most days we take it all in stride, but every now and then I get impatient and I start to get flustered that my husband doesn’t necessarily operate on the same time table as me. Things get done; however, they don’t always get done when I want them to get done.

If there is one thing the Lord keeps trying to teach me over and over again it’s that I need to let go of wanting things accomplished on my schedule. But, I guess I haven’t learned it yet; and I’ve been getting frustrated. Last week the Lord used my daughter to show me that not only have I been impatient, but I’ve also been terribly disrespectful to my husband in the process.

One night when the kids were watching the Olympics with my husband I was in the other room when I heard my girl tell her daddy that he needed to put his cell phone down and stop playing solitaire. I wish I could say she asked him in a sweet, loving tone, but it was nothing but sass and exasperation. Then she followed up her command by coming into the bedroom and tattling on her daddy for “playing on his phone.” I lovingly corrected my daughter and explained to her that she didn’t need to be telling daddy what to do, but didn’t think much else about it until….

The next evening we were preparing to go somewhere fun. As we were getting ready to go my daughter asked my husband to do something for her. When he didn’t respond immediately she took that as her signal to let him know he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing.  As I watched her innocent disapproval and disrespect for her daddy yet again my heart broke because I knew she was only emulating behavior she had seen from me. Mirror, mirror. Ouch!

It’s so easy for our frustrations to sneak into our verbal and non-verbal communication and turn our interaction into nagging or even belittling. Even though the disrespect might be subtle or even unintentional, it’s still there and my girl proved to me last week that she is picking up on it all and thinks if Mommy does it, it must be okay.  So, coming to you from a heart that desires to love and respect my husband and teach my children to do the same, will you please pray for me to make a concerted effort this week to speak words of truth and encouragement to my husband so that our kids will know how important it is to honor one another with our actions and our words? If you would like me to pray for you to do the same, please let me know in the comments below and join me in this prayer:

“Father God, thank you for the gift of my husband. Please help me to love him well, not only with my actions but with my words. Help me to honor and encourage, instead of disrespect or tear down. When I get frustrated, please help me to speak the truth in love and in constructive ways rather than nag or belittle. Help me teach my children how to honor and love their father as well. Thank You for Your grace, Your mercy, and the help you provide. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 Related Articles:

Lessons Learned From My Daughter: Prayer

Lessons Learned From My Daughter: The Mirror

 

 

Point of Grace Benefit Concert in NWA

In our series on foster care, our friend, Becky Shaffer was a guest contributor.  She is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of Saving Grace Inc.  

Many of you have asked us how you can help support the young women of Saving Grace.  Well if you live in or around Northwest Arkansas, this may be your next chance!

On October 5th at 7:00pm at the Walton Arts Center, there will be a benefit concert for Saving Grace performed by Point of Grace

Click here to go directly to the box office! Tickets start at $29!