Sunday, March 29, 2015

What It's Like to Have a Brother With Autism

I absolutely love this video by a young man who explains his relationship with his older brother with autism.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Autism Awareness Resource for Churches

April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. What will your church do to acknowledge this?

There has been much work done for autism awareness but there is a lot of work yet to be done. I regularly get asked by people who have no idea about what autism is.

As a result, I have put together this bulletin insert that explains what autism is and how the church can respond. You may not have anyone in your church with autism but you likely have people with family that have autism. Imagine how they would feel if they saw this insert.

If you are a parent with a child with autism, send this link to your pastor or leadership team. Use this as an opportunity to educate your congregation.

There are all sorts of possibilities for this. So please download this autism awareness bulletin insert and show your congregation and community that you care about autism.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brian Doerksen and Special Needs Parenting

This is a powerful video by Brian and Joyce Doerksen on their experience as parents of special needs children.

Brian Doerksen from Christian Horizons on Vimeo.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Churches, Parents and the Vaccine Controversy

It is good for people who care about autism families to know about the autism-vaccine controversy. For those who do not know, some people believe that certain vaccines either cause autism or have some other strong connection.

Image by pixaby
This is what you need to know. Parents who believe in the autism-vaccine connection are very passionate about it. There is anger toward those who they see as allowing something dangerous to continue. Parents who believe that there is no autism-vaccine often have much more than just a lack of belief. They may feel hostility toward those who refuse to vaccinate because of the possibility of outbreaks of other diseases. There is a tremendous amout of emotion on both sides.

What is the truth? I have strong beliefs but I will not share them here.

For a church who wants to support autism families, what is important is that you do not judge. Even if you have a strongly-held belief, in the context of ministry that should be kept to yourself. Church is not the place to debate emotional controversies such as this.

It is good to be aware of what parents are feeling but you should not use the church's authority to take a stand.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What We Can Learn from Odin's Birthday

It was so fun last night to watch the response to a mother's plea for her son's birthday. If you have not heard about Odin, you can get the basics here. Odin has Asperger's and a local community and far beyond reached out to him with love on his birthday. It was extremely moving.

As wonderful as this was, there is a danger that this can be just one moment of good feelings which will soon drop off our radar. There are two things that we can learn from Odin's birthday that applies to all those with autism.

1. Having autism can be lonely. The story began with Odin having trouble making friends. This is all too common for people of all forms of autism. It is easier to exclude people with autism than to include them. This is particularly an issue with high functioning people with autism. They are aware that they are different. They are often the victims of bullying. If you know a person with autism, be watching for how people are treating them and reach out to them in love.

2. People can make a difference. There was not a whole lot of notice or planning for Odin's birthday. A number for text messaging was put out. A hash tag of #OdinBirthday was created. The location for the bowling was announced. People caught the vision and did something. This does not have to be one time thing. It may not include thousands of people or greetings from politicians and sports figures. It may be just a few people who decide to make a difference. Odin's birthday shows us that it is possible.

What have you learned from Odin's birthday? 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Let Church Go to the Dogs

What if you are a church that is aware of the needs in the autism community but do not have anyone with autism in your church? What if you want to make a difference but do not have the resources to start a disability ministry?

I say, let church go to the dogs.

I mean it. One of the best things that happened to our family was getting a service dog for our son. A service dog is a specially trained dog that can go anywhere our son goes. The child is tethered to the dog and so can only go where the dog is. Not only does the dog provide safety, it also provides emotional stability. I noticed a huge difference in our son when the dog (in jacket) was in the same room as our son but not physically connected. On the safety side, our dog saved our son's life a number of times.

Here is the catch. The dogs are very expensive (well over $10,000) and it is up to the parents to raise the money. Parents are desperate to find people and organizations that will support them during the fundraising stage.

What if your church contacted an autism service dog organization and asked to be connected with a family. What if your church came along side them and help raise money? What if you just wrote them a cheque? What if you did anything?

I am saying that your church can make a difference in the autism community without starting a disability ministry. There are many service/assistance dog organizations out there. We used National Service Dogs but there are many other good organizations as well. Consider what you could do as a church.

Oh and dog spelled backwards is God. Just sayin'.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Temple Grandin on Autism

It is always good to hear Temple Grandin's thoughts on autism. In many ways she is a window into autism that many cannot express.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Helping Children to Understand

There has been a lot of work done to promote awareness, understanding and acceptance for those with special needs. That is wonderful, but most of that is aimed at helping adults.

What about the children?

How do we help children to understand those who are different? It is not an easy task. Thankfully, Tim Huff has provided a resource that can make a difference. Huff has written a book called It's Hard Not to Stare: Helping Children Understand Disabilities that might be just what we need.

Here is the description from Amazon:

It's Hard Not to Stare is the second book unpacking StreetLevel's children's Compassion Series. Tim Huff addresses issues related to disabilities in this book, as he did homelessness in the first of the series, applying the same tender and truthful prose, along with bright and courageous child-friendly illustrations, which have been heightened by the insights and wisdom of his professional peers, educators, moms and dads. The material encourages children to look at their world through the lens of compassion and understanding, rather than assumption, judgment or fear. Tim believes this approach will impact the way we care for, and befriend, people in our communities and beyond, and that when we nurture compassion in a child in one area of life, the potential is greater that this goodness will spill over into all other areas.

5 Things Autism Parents Fear About Church

It is not easy for parents of children with autism to start attending church. It is not as simple as just packing the kids in the car and heading out. There is a huge psychological barrier before they even leave their house. Churches should be aware of the fear that parents experience. Here are five things that parents may be afraid of if they do bring their child to church.

Image by pixaby
1. Will their child make noise? It is common for children to make noise at what others may consider inappropriate times. That noise may be questions, scripting from movies, moaning, humming or yelping. How will the church respond? Will there be dirty looks? Will they be asked to leave?

2. Will their child be bullied? Just because it is Sunday school does not mean that other children are going to be any more understanding. Children with autism look "normal" and they are easily the targets of teasing.

3. Will their child have a meltdown? An autistic meltdown is much more than a temper tantrum. Sometimes they can be predicted, sometimes they can't. They often happen when expectations are disappointed. There are few things as humiliating as having your child having a public meltdown. We have experienced it many times.

4. Will their child be safe? Some children with autism are flight risks. Stress makes them want to run and to run fast. They are smart and so as soon as an adult turns their head, they are gone. Is bringing the child to church going to put their life in danger?

5. Will their child be treated with respect? Some children with autism who are nonverbal may seem low functioning. Adults do and say things around them assuming the child can't understand. However, these children are often very intelligent and understand everything that is said. All children should be treated with respect, no matter what level of disability they may have.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Biblical Perspective to the Increase of Autism

A guest post by Ron Sandison.

A Biblical Perspective to the Increase of Autism David, a young adult with autism and mute from birth, was admitted to the hospital for medication adjustment (Names and details have been changed). Two weeks earlier David’s parents had reluctantly placed him in a group home. They were unable, in their seventies, to control his frequent, violent outbursts and provide for his total care needs. David punched and scratched the staff at the group home and was placed as in-patient with one-to-one staff supervision. He required constant redirection and care for his activities of daily living (ADL’s) showering, dressing, feeding, and toileting.

David would jump side-to-side, two feet high, humming in a loud monotone the phonetic sounds he-ma. As David followed me into the day-lounge, he began to jump side-to-side, humming loudly. Patient Jim, an agnostic, asked me, “Why would God ever create a young man like David who is unable to do anything?” (Names and details altered) I looked at Jim and said, “Do you like TV, computers, electricity and cell phones?” “Of course I do!” Jim replied. I said, “You cannot have the high end of the spectrum of autism traits that can create geniuses and inventors, like Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison, without the other end of the spectrum. Psalms 115:13 declares, “The Lord will bless his followers, great and small.” (Easy-to-Read Version)  Not everyone will be great in the eyes of the world; God loves and cares for David, a man created in His own image, as He does for you and me.”’

For those on the low-functioning end of the spectrum, daily activities such as, brushing their teeth, tying shoelaces, or putting on clothes can be mountainous challenges. We tend to take these for granted. Alberto, a young adult with autism, refers to these mundane tasks as his mountains of practical moments. When Alberto feels frustrated, unable to accomplish these normative tasks, he lapses into stereotyped actions—flapping his hands or flickering his fingers in front of his eyes. (Douglas Biklen, Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2005), p. 266.)  As believers, we should feel compassion and love for these individuals and realize we also could have been born with these same disabilities. This understanding should prompt us to search our own hearts and provide help to individuals with ASD and their families. The apostle Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We bear burdens by seeing the image of God and face of Christ on those with disabilities. We demonstrate Jesus’ love by our caring deeds. As Mother Theresa wrote:
The more repugnant the work, or the more disfigured or deformed the image of God in the person, the greater will be our faith and loving devotion in seeking the face of Jesus, and lovingly ministering to Him in His distressing disguise. We need to realize that we have the privilege of touching Jesus twenty-four hours a day. When I’m feeding that child, I’m feeding Jesus. These poor people are Jesus suffering today. (Angelo Devananda, Total Surrender: Mother Teresa (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 1985), pp. 116, 117, 130, 139, 150.)
Psychologist Wayne E. Oates says, “Our personal devotions, as we contemplate the image of God in those to whom we minister, become ethical enquiry rooms of our own hearts.” (Wayne E. Oates, The Presence of God in Pastoral Counseling (Waco: Word Books, 1986), p. 40.)

The Apostle Paul wrote:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor. 1:27-30). 
Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, notes in his lectures that engineers are twice as likely to have children with ASD as the general population. Generally, the relatives of people with autism tend to score higher on tests of systemizing. Individuals with the gift of systemizing are particularly skilled for developing new technology and tend to belong to one of these professions: engineers, computer software designers, mathematicians, or architects. Temple Grandin said, “Without the genes that give rise to autism, the world would be full of charming people who sit around the campfire, chatting gaily and empathizing mightily but inventing nothing.”

Hans Asperger wrote in his 1944 doctorial thesis:
It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential. For success, the necessary ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simply practical, an ability to rethink a subject with originality so as to create in new untrodden ways, with all abilities canalized into the one specialty. 
The increased prevalence of autism in the twenty-first century has followed the expansion of technological advancements. Daniel 12:4 says, “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” We have witnessed an enormous increase in knowledge with the dawn of the computer age and the internet. Would this advancement in technology have been possible if not for an increase in individuals with autism who are prone to systemizing?

What if God does use the David’s and those with autism to confound the world’s wisdom and test the condition of our hearts?

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures. On April 4th 2016 Charisma House is publishing, Ron’s book, A Christian Concise Guide to Autism. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him at

Building Communities of Belonging 2015

The Building Communities of Belonging conference, put on by Christian Horizons, is coming up on May 9, 2015. I attended and spoke at the conference last year. It is a tremendous opportunity to connect with leaders, pastors, parents and those with special needs. You will find all sorts of resources that will help your church to be more effective in ministering to those with special needs. I highly recommend it.

You can find out more about and register for the conference here.

Here is an article I wrote in Faith Today magazine about last year's conference.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What is Disability Ministry?

What is disability ministry? For some churches, that may be a formal ministry with their own budget, volunteers and pastor. For smaller churches that may look much different. I recently wrote a post for the Disability and Faith Forum (which is a resource you really need to check out) on this very subject.

Here is part of the post:

I recently encountered a comment by a church leader who was asking if it was worth having a disability ministry since they “only” have about four children with special needs in their church. To be honest, this statement shocked me.

I understand what the person was saying. They were asking if that is enough children to have an organized ministry that was aimed solely at children with special needs.

But is that the definition of disability ministry? Does disability ministry require its own staff person or volunteers? Does it require its own room and time to meet? As a parent of two children with autism, I would just assume that any church that we attended would provide ministry even if there were no other children with special needs.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

7 Things Churches Need to Know About Autism

This post originally appeared here.

One of my goals is to equip churches to minister to families dealing with disabilities, especially autism. I have an ebook planned on this very topic.
This post is aimed at the mid-sized to small church that suddenly has a family with a child with autism attending. What is it that the church needs to know?
Autism1. Not every child with autism is the same. You may have known a child or had a family member with autism. Do not assume that the child attending your church is the same. It would be safer to assume that the child is different.
2. Anticipate safety concerns. Not every child with autism has safety concerns but it is better to be prepared. Find out if they can be aggressive to others or if they tend to run. If so, put a plan into place.
3. Do not assume that non-verbal means unintelligent. Some children with autism do not communicate with verbal language (either by ability or choice). That does not mean that they are incapable of learning.
4. The siblings need ministry. Often it is the child with autism that gets the attention. If that child has siblings, this is an opportunity for the church to minister. Make the effort to give them the attention they need.
5. The parents need ministry. It is exhausting (physically, mentally, spiritually) to parent a child with autism. Try to arrange date nights for the parents. Look for practical ways to make their life easier.
6. Children with autism make noise. I know that people like a nice peaceful and tranquil worship service but children with autism make noise. The glare you give during the service will not make a difference. The child will not notice or will not care.
7. The family did not come to find a cure for autism. There are dozens of “cures” for autism floating around the internet. There is no need to pass these on to the family. They are much more informed about autism than you are. The family came to worship God and have fellowship with people.
If a family with autism has started attending your church that is a great thing because it is much easier to stay home. The best thing to do is welcome them and love them. They have made themselves vulnerable to the church, please respect that trust.

Hugh Ross and Asperger's Syndrome

Astrophysicist and founder/President of Reasons To Believe, Hugh Ross, is interviewed by Opportunity Schools' Executive Director Louise Ukleja about Hugh's life and his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome.

The One Thing

If you read this blog, I assume that you have some interest in making your church autism-friendly. There are all sorts of steps that should be taken, but if you had to do only one thing, what should it be?

dirty look
Image by pixaby
Ban "stink-eye" therapy.

You know what I mean. A person with a disability, adult or child, makes a sound during a worship service and people in the congregation give the individual a dirty look.

Besides being totally inappropriate, what do people think this will achieve? Do they think the dirty look will make the child or adult be quieter? Do they think they are informing the parent or caregiver that a sound was just made? I promise you that they are very much aware.

The dirty look will only make families feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. It may even increase the stress level, causing the person to be louder.

If you do only one thing, get rid of the stink-eye.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What is Autism?

This video by the National Autistic Society in the UK gives you information about autism along with some of the work they do.

Autism and the Church: How to make a difference

I recently had the opportunity to write a post for Christian Week. While I am thankful for the chance to write for them, the occasion for the article was very unfortunate. The post was born out of our son running away from his group home. We really feared that we had lost him this time. It was a horrible experience. But out of that came this post where I try to offer some practical suggestions for keeping children with autism safe.

Here is a preview of the post:

“Your son with autism has gone missing.”

 Our 13-year-old son lives in a group home, is non-verbal and is on the severe end of the autism spectrum. We had seen enough news stories with unhappy endings to know it was time to panic.

When we arrived at the group home, the street was lined with police cars and news trucks. Neither the group home nor the police had any idea where he was.

You can read the rest of the Christian Week post here.

Why Autism is Important to Me

In this video, I share a little about my experience as a father of two children with autism. I also share about why I wrote the book How to Make Your Church-Autism Friendly.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Making Your Church Autism-Friendly

Some time ago I merged my multiple blogs into one website at I am happy with that decision but at the same time I felt as if promoting autism resources was getting left out. I wrote How to Make Your Church-Autism Friendly because I strongly believe, both as a former pastor and an autism dad, that churches need to be equipped to minister to families with disabilities in general and autism in particular.

While it may seem like a step backward, I have decided to start this new blog. I intend it to look a bit different than my discipleship blog, but there will be some overlap. I have plans for plenty of guest bloggers as well as links to practical resources that churches can do.

So please pass on the word about this blog and let's see if we can improve the way churches minister to families with special needs.