Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Forgotten Siblings

The school year has just ended for our family and that means that all of their stuff from school comes home. My wife and I were going through our youngest daughter's journal that was sent home and it was nice to get some insight into what was going on inside her.

There were some neat entries about her times with her brother who has autism. She has been connecting better with him. But there was a sad entry about our daughter with autism who broke her favourite snow globe.

When people think about families with autism, they usually think about the child with autism or the parents that are the caregivers. But what about the siblings? It is not easy to be a brother or sister of someone with autism. Toys get broken. Parents are distracted. Home is hectic.

If churches want to help families with autism, one place to start is to reach out to the siblings. The great thing is that it does not require any special training and in the long run, it also benefits the parents and the sibling with autism.

If you want to learn more, I recommend the book, Siblings of Children With Autism.

Monday, June 27, 2016

What I Would Look For in an Autism-Friendly Church

Autism Friendly Church
My goal for this blog and my book of the same name is to help churches become more autism-friendly. When I write, I alternate between wearing my pastor hat and my autism dad hat. This post will be written with my dad hat.

If I was looking for a church (which I'm not since I'm a pastor) and if my children with autism still lived with us (they currently live in a group home), this is what I would look for in a church.

1. Safety. Our son is a runner and has escaped many places and has had numerous close calls. We would have to know there was adequate supervision.
2. Patience. Our children make strange noises. We are not interested in getting the stinkeye from people who do not appreciate the sounds they are making.
3. Respect. We would not just want our children accepted, we would want them respected as human beings created in the image of God.
4. Integration. Our children cannot do everything others can do and that is fine. But we would not want them hidden off so that real ministry could take place without them. We would want them integrated into the life of the church as much as was feasible.
5. Practical help. Being an autism-friendly church is more than what happens on a Sunday morning. We would love it if people from the church gave practical assistance, whether that was respite, taking out our other kids for events or something else.

These are the ideas that come to my mind. If you have a family with autism at your church, perhaps it is time to ask them what they need for you to be an autism-friendly church.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What You Need to Know About Autism Speaks

This blog is aimed at helping churches support families who have autism. I know that one of the things that church members like to do is pass on resources. That is fine, as long as the family gives you permission.

However, I want to give you a warning that people outside of the autism community are unaware of. There are many people with autism who do not support and even strongly oppose an organization called Autism Speaks. This will seem strange because if you visit their website, you will find all kinds of very helpful resources and information. It all looks so good. I have shared information from this site.

So why do some people dislike Autism Speaks so much? There are a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is the feeling that Autism Speaks does not speak for people with autism, nor do they give voice to those with autism. You can read this blog post for one opinion on the issue.

I will be honest and say that I do not have strong feelings either way. I have heard some concerning things about Autism Speaks but have also seen some good things. I'm not prepared to endorse or condemn.

I share all of this only to say to well meaning church people that you need to be very careful when talking to a family with autism about Autism Speaks. There are all kinds of baggage that go along with this organization that is not found with others. Just be aware that it is a hot button topic within the autism community and act accordingly.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Autism, Theology and Baptism

I recently had the privilege of baptizing my daughter. For context, I'm a Baptist pastor and so we baptize believers as opposed to infants. While Emma is our first to be baptized, she is the fourth of our five children. Our two oldest children have autism and are on the severe end of the spectrum.

Baptizing my daughter has made me think about what baptism might look like for Logan and Abby. Baptism is meant to be an outward expression of what has happened on the inside. The problem is that with our children being nonverbal, I don't know what is going on the inside.

Abby is 13 years old, but seems to have an intellectual age of around four. With her communication issues, that is difficult to be sure of. Logan is 15 years old but is more advanced intellectually. He is able to demonstrate his intelligence in a clearer way. My intention is to try and communicate with him about faith and I can see the possibility of him being baptized.

My question is, how much does someone need to know about God to be baptized? What are the theological requirements? I try to get the basics across to those who are without disabilities, but what does this look like for those with intellectual disabilities?

This is not a post where I can offer answers. I really do not know. I do feel that in these cases that it is better to err on the side of grace and trust that God is in it in some way.

I would love to hear from other people about how you have dealt with this. If you are a pastor, what would you require in terms of knowledge about God before baptizing someone?

You might be interested in this post I wrote on baptism in general.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

What the Church Needs to Know About Autism - Episode 5

In this episode, I introduce you to my daughter Abby. Autism is not just a topic or issue, it is about real people.