An Autistic Thanksgiving

AutisticI suspect that most families have unexpected situations and uncontrollable factors when it comes to family dinners and holidays. This is definitely true when the family includes autism.

This past weekend was the Canadian Thanksgiving, which should be a time for family to get together. Autism makes things less than simple. Here are some random thoughts about what Thanksgiving was like.

Our two children with autism live in a group home about 1.5 hours away. This is not ideal. First, I would prefer they not be in a group home and secondly, I would prefer they live closer.

The plan was for both of them to come down to spend Thanksgiving with us. The dinner was to be at my in-laws, a home that neither Logan nor Abby have been to before. However, their home is not autism-proof and Abby is a food-seeker, constantly grabbing at whatever food is within her reach. We were anxious as to how that would go.

We got a call yesterday morning from the group home and we could hear Abby screaming in the background. Her meltdowns also set off Logan. There was no bringing Abby but they were willing to try Logan.

Logan arrived and we were happy to see him. But we were sad to not have Abby. And to add to that, there was also a sense of relief that Abby wasn’t there. Logan is much less maintenance than Abby. However, that sense of relief also brings feelings of guilt.

We didn’t know how Logan would transition from our house to my in-laws. He sometimes struggles with those transitions. Not only did he do fine with the transition, he did very well at the in-laws. It went far better than we expected.

I did get to see Abby that night as I brought Logan back to his group home. She was feeling much better.

This is not a complaint about our Thanksgiving. It was a good and fun time. But I am also aware of how much autism shapes what our family events look like.

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People With Autism Become Adults

Stephen BedardI have been doing some informal research into how many people with autism are in churches. I had a very interesting comment that I think reflects common thinking on autism.

One pastor responded by saying, “We don’t have many children in our church.” The funny thing is that I never mentioned children in my question. I was asking about “people with autism.”

It is a common attitude to equate people with autism with children with autism. Much of the conversation I hear about including people with autism in churches is in the context of children’s ministry.

I’m not pointing any fingers. When our son was diagnosed with autism, I asked the developmental pediatrician about adults with autism. I could picture children with autism but had trouble imagining adults with autism.

However, if all goes well, children with autism develop into adults with autism. In fact, in about six months, my son will officially be an adult with autism.

I think it is great that churches are active in looking at how to integrate children with autism. But please don’t forget the adults!

These adults with autism may be nonverbal and live in a group home or may be quirky people who are socially awkward. Everyone on the spectrum deserves a place within the church.

Be autism aware but be aware of all stages of life from babies to seniors.

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How Apologetics Intersects With My Interest in Disabilities

Two of the areas that I write on the most are Christian apologetics and disabilities. This makes sense. My faith journey includes a period of atheism and I am a skeptic by nature. In addition, I have two children with autism and so disabilities are close to my heart.

But how do Christian apologetics and disabilities overlap, if they do at all?

I see two specific connections between Christian apologetics and disabilities.

Disabilities and the Problem of Suffering

One of the most popular arguments against Christianity is the problem of suffering. This can take many forms but one argument includes the problem of disabilities. If God is all-powerful and all-good, why do some people have disabilities?

A simplistic answer is that disabilities are a result of the fall. Without denying the effects of the fall, that answer assumes that the experience of disabilities is all about suffering.

There is a vibrant theology of disability that is being developed that reveals that there is much to celebrate in the experience of disability. Many people with disabilities have very full and happy lives and would be confused by those who think it is a living hell.

Theology of disability is helpful for understand how God is working in the lives of those with disabilities, demonstrating both his goodness and power. Listen to this podcast episode that discusses theology and disability.

Disability Ministry as a Christian Apologetic

In my discussions with skeptics, I frequently encounter objections concerning the nature of the church. The church is filled with hypocrites, people who are greedy and selfish. Of course as long as we allow humans into the church, we will have such problems.

But I see a church that welcomes and embraces families and individuals with disabilities as being a powerful Christian apologetic. It is a witness of God’s love working through and among followers of Jesus. When the church is doing this well, it is a beautiful picture of what the kingdom of God can be like.

I encourage you to watch this video.

I will continue to write on both Christian apologetics and on disabilities. They are not two completely separate topics but do indeed have much overlap.

Here are two books that I have written on both these topics:

How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

Experiencing God Without Losing Your Mind

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What Our Church Does For Disability Ministry

When people find out that I’m interested in disabilities, I often get asked what we do at our church for disability ministry. Like myself, people are always look for ideas. So when I get asked what we do for disability ministry, this is what I tell them.

Church.

Yeah, that’s it. It is not because we don’t value people with disabilities but because we do. Our goal is to integrate all people into our worship services and that includes people with disabilities.

There are times that I look at our congregation and notice that about ten percent of the people have either a developmental or physical disability. I think we might be doing something right.

This is not a jab at churches that have specific disability ministries as a part of their program. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Some great ministry takes place in those contexts.

But at this point, there has not been a need for us to do anything aimed just at people with disabilities. We don’t want to segregate people into (temporarily) abled and disabled. We have our church family, a family happens to have a lot of diversity.

This doesn’t mean that we do everything perfect. We still have a long way to go. There are some important areas of our church building that are not yet accessible. This is something that we are working on.

But I am thankful for where we are at a congregation and for every person God has brought to us.

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Autism and the First Day of School

Like many parents, we sent our children off today for their first day of school for the year. We took the obligatory pictures of our three children and posted them on Facebook.

Except we have more than three children.

AutismTwo of our children have autism and live in a group home over an hour away. That means that we didn’t even see them on what should be a very important day. We were sent a picture of our daughter Abby but not our son Logan.

Logan is in grade twelve and this should be the start of his last year of high school. But it isn’t. Students with disabilities can stay to an older age in school. Grades are not near as important. The focus is on preparing for life rather than future academic pursuits.

The first day of school is an exciting day. But for parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, it can be more difficult. Some parents may have trouble getting their children to school. Others, like us, may not even see their children.

So enjoy the first day of school. But remember that it can loo different for some families.

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Good News: “Go Away!”

Good NewsHow many parents think it is good news when their teenage daughter tells them to go away? This one does.

A couple of days ago, I was visiting our children, Logan and Abby, at their group home. Both Logan and Abby have autism and are considered nonverbal. Abby uses an iPad as an augmentative communication device.

Abby was doing some neat things with her iPad, including pairing different words that belonged together. For example, she paired “guided reading” and “dictionary.” After about two hours, the usual length of our visits, she used her iPad to say, “Go away.”

I was not offended as Abby was not mad at me. She knew that it was about time for me to go and so she communicated to me that it was time for me to leave.

Most parents would not like being told to go away but this was an important step in Abby’s ability to communicate. Communication difficulties are a common experience for people with autism. Abby communicated with me and this is Good News.


Why do I blog about Good News?

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First Thoughts on The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor is a medical drama that airs on ABC and which features a doctor with autism. It is based on an earlier South Korean series. At this point I have only watched the first two episodes and will comment further after watching the first season. These are only my preliminary thoughts.

There have been plenty of medical dramas on television, from House to ER to Grey’s Anatomy. Some better than others. But there are only so many twists that can be performed on the theme.

The Good Doctor does take a fresh approach by having the main character as someone with autism. I will say that I have so far enjoyed Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Dr. Shaun Murphy. Murphy is hired at a hospital as a surgical resident. Although extremely talented, he is very socially awkward. He also faces significant prejudice as certain people at the hospital are actively working to have him removed.

There is plenty about the series that I enjoy so far. There are some comparisons to the BBC Sherlock Holmes in the way that he processes data. There is lots of humour as well, mixed with some sad moments.

Of course my interest is in the autism connection. Yes, there are plenty of stereotypes in the series (see my post Disability Stereotypes in Movies). Murphy is not a typical person with autism (as if there was a typical person with autism) in that he is a savant. The idea that most people with autism are savants is an unfortunate stereotype. However, his savant abilities are what end up making the series interesting.

The president of the hospital who fights to get Dr. Murphy hired points out to the board that there were times when the hospital did not hire black or female doctors. One of the board members is outraged that he would compare being black or female to having autism. If found that reaction to be quite interesting.

I will keep watching the series and will write a full review once I have completed the season. But so far I like The Good Doctor.

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The Hope’s Reason Podcast

PodcastI have been podcasting for quite a few years and I do enjoy it. Although my original podcast has been taken down by me, I am still active in podcasting.

I offer a podcast that is partner to my blogging activity at this site. It is called Hope’s Reason: A Podcast of Discipleship. This podcast was on hiatus for a while but is now active again.

I have changed the format of it and it is now primarily interviews. However, I do have some plans for other types of episodes. I have been able to interview some amazing thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. I talk to professors, pastors, authors and others that have valuable wisdom to share. I think you will enjoy our conversations.

You can find the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

If you get caught up on these episodes, you can also check out my other podcasts:

 

 

 

 

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Disability Stereotypes in Movies

One of the pet peeves of many people in the disability community is how people with disabilities are portrayed in movies and television shows. Very often, stereotypes are used for people with disabilities. People with autism or MS may not feel that the portrayal of their diagnoses represents their experience.

I am sympathetic with this concern. But I feel that I should point out that everything about movies and television shows is about stereotypes.

For example, I am an evangelical Christian. Every portrayal I have seen in entertainment of evangelicals is always a stereotype, usually negative. I am also a pastor and in the same way, pastors in movies are usually pretty shallow stereotypes. I suspect the same is true of portrayals of teachers, police officers, doctors, etc. It is just the way movies and television shows work.

That is not to say that studios should be satisfied with stereotypes. I would encourage them to interact with many examples of whatever type of person they want to include to deepen the portrayal. There is diversity within every diagnosis, profession, etc. and so not every person will identify with any one portrayal. But there is always room to go deeper and to avoid short cuts.

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Why I Don’t Talk Much About Ableism

For years we have heard about sexism (discrimination against a gender, usually females) and racism (discrimination against a race, usually non-whites). People may be less familiar with ableism. What is ableism?

The Centre for Disability Rights gives this definition for ableism:

Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.

I do believe that there is such a thing as ableism. Many aspects of our society are set up to favour those without a disability. (See my post What is a Disability?) Someone recently suggested a test to see how accessible an area is. Take your bicycle and note when and how often it is difficult to push that bike around inside a building. But this is much more than just being wheelchair accessible. It is about our assumptions concerning disabilities.

While I do believe that issues surrounding ableism need to be discussed, I do not spend much time on it. I do try to be a disabilities advocate but without focusing on ableism.

Why?

One is that ableism includes offending people by our words. We should seek to be sensitive with our words and I argue against the use of the r-word (retard) but frankly, it is impossible to speak at all without offending someone. For example, I once heard a video by a young man with Down Syndrome speaking about the r-word and in his talk used “dumb” in a pejorative sense. Someone may be bothered when talking about the images of walking or seeing or hearing. While most people with disabilities won’t care, some will be offended. Enforcing speech that avoids any hint of ableism is almost impossible. Be sensitive and try your best, but you always fail someone.

More importantly, labeling someone as ableist tends to shut down the conversation. Someone may do or say something out of ignorance. We can write them off as ableist or we can try to educate. Labels can easily put up roadblocks to advancement. While ableism exists, it may be better to discuss assumptions and consider alternatives rather than falling back on the labels.

I’m sure that there are some people within the disability community that would disagree with me. I’m thankful that there are people who fight against ableism but I have decided to take my advocacy in a different direction.

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What is a Disability?

DisabilityI recently asked a question on a couple of Facebook groups that I belonged to. One group was about autism and the other about sarcoidosis. I asked members whether they identified as disabled. Interestingly, many of those with sarcoidosis did identify as having a disability, while most of those with autism did not, unless they had an additional physical disability or a mental illness.

It got me thinking about how we define disability. Some with depression would identify as disabled and some would not. Some with chronic pain would identify as disabled and some would not.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines disability as:

  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
  2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
  3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
  4. a mental disorder, or
  5. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

This is a pretty extensive definition. It includes diabetes (which I sometimes have), which surprised me.

The World Health Organization gives this definition:

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.

The Americans With Disabilities Act gives this definition:

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.

What is important to see is that having a disability is not identical with a medical diagnosis. Just having a diagnosis of depression or of autism or of sarcoidosis by itself doesn’t mean that one is disabled. Those diagnoses may lead to a disability but the diagnosis itself is not a disability.

I would suggest that a disability is any physical, developmental or mental/emotional condition that impairs activity that is typically experienced by their peers.

I can imagine some people not liking the negative aspect of that definition but that is intrinsic to anything with the prefix “dis-.” There is much that is positive and life-affirming about the experience of disability, but by definition it includes an inability to do something.

The bottom line is that it is up to the individual to determine how disability fits with their identity. If a deaf person doesn’t consider themselves disabled, respect that. If a depressed person considers themselves disabled, respect that. Both abilities and disabilities are often invisible and we shouldn’t be quick to judge.


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Asperger’s From the Inside Out – Review

Asperger's From the Inside OutBefore there was just an Autism Spectrum Disorder, there was also an Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). The simple definition of AS is that it is autism without the language deficits. However, AS has disappeared as a diagnosis and is now a part of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Michael John Carley, the executive director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, has written a book called Asperger’s From Inside Out.

Carley has AS, as well as being a father of a son on the ASD. He shares in this book about his experience as a person with AS, as well has stories from people affiliated with GRASP.

AS is often dismissed as “high functioning” autism and therefore having to little to know challenges. The truth is that AS has its own issues and the label of “high functioning” doesn’t reflect the experience of AS.

Asperger’s From the Inside Out, is a great introduction to Asperger’s Syndrome. If you have AS and wonder how you fit with the experience of others or if you have friends or family with AS, this is the book for you.

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Inspiration Porn

This past week, I was at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. There was so much that I learned but one of the terms I came across for the first time was “inspiration porn.” What is inspiration porn?

Many people find people with disabilities inspirational. That is fine if they are actually doing something inspiring but in many cases people are inspired by those with disabilities for just getting through day doing normal activities.

There is an objectifying of people with disabilities by those without. I will confess that I have done this. I have seen people with disabilities as being inspiring for simply “getting out of bed and remembering their name.”

I highly recommend that you watch this video by Stella Young. You won’t be inspired but you will be informed.

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This is What Autism Looks Like

It is important for me to share information about autism. It is vital that our society grow in autism awareness. But is autism is more than a diagnosis, it is about people. Autism never happens apart from real people.

Here is a short video of myself and my daughter Abby going out for a walk. I hope this opens your eyes to what autism really like.

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Making Plans With Autism

Stephen BedardA few weeks ago, we were staying at a hotel with our three youngest children. One of the reasons we went to the hotel is that it had a pool. Since the hotel was in the same city as the group home where our children with autism live. The plan was for our two oldest children to join us the next day.

But that didn’t happen. Logan and Abby went into the van to come to the hotel. Abby expressed some emotion. Logan reacted, which increased Abby’s emotion. The next thing, both Logan and Abby were both very upset and that was the end of their trip.

One of the most important things to know about autism is that plans are always only tentative. Things can change at any moment. It is something that autism families just need to get used to.

That is not to say we had no time together. Instead of swimming together at the hotel, we visited them at the group home. Seeing us calmed them both down and we had a nice visit.

Just because plans don’t always work out doesn’t mean that we can’t have quality time. We just have to hold our plans loosely.

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Good News: A Beautiful Day For a Walk

Stephen BedardMy Good News is that I took a walk to Tim Horton’s. How is that Good News, other than the fact that I really enjoy their steeped tea?

This weekend included a visit from our children, Logan and Abby. They have autism and live in a group home over an hour away. Abby has food issues and much of our visits are intercepting her raids on our fridge. I often will take her for rides to Tim Horton’s (her favourite place) to get her out of the house.

Being a beautiful spring day, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of going for a drive, I wanted to go for a walk. Although Abby is fifteen years-old, we had never done anything quite like this before. We were not sure how it would go and I made sure to bring my phone in case I needed Amanda to come to my rescue.

Once I got Abby past the car, she was good with the walk. I even learned some things about her, such as her preference to walk on grass rather than the sidewalk. Abby is nonverbal and so there was not much conversation. But there was plenty of communication.

She held onto my arm the whole way. Every once in a while, she would wrap both her arms around my arm and squeeze tight just to let me know she loved me.

She was pretty happy once we arrived at Tim Horton’s. Although she can be quite unpredictable, she stood in line with me, with just a few squeals of delight. I let her pick her donut and discovered that she preferred sprinkle donuts to the double chocolate donuts that I had assumed.

We walked back to the house with a box of Timbits for the rest of the family. It was a special day for Abby and me. There is plenty about autism that disrupts the “normal” but our little walk was quality daddy-daughter time that I will never forget.


Why do I blog about Good News?

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An Important Question For Churches and Disabilities

Our church has a Bible study that takes place Sundays after the service. We were looking at Paul’s vision for the unity of the church in Ephesians 2. One of the participants asked a question about how this fits with disability ministries.

The lady in our study (who happens to be blind), asked about the role of disability ministries and how that either helps or hinders integrating people with disabilities into the life of the church. She wasn’t being critical but her question was valid.

She acknowledged that there is a role for disability ministries, especially for those with developmental disabilities. But there is also a danger that people with disabilities will be separated from the rest of the congregation.

Without criticizing other churches that have formal disability ministries, I’m thankful that every church I’ve pastored didn’t have the resources to have a separate program. When people ask me what we do for disability ministry, all I can say is, “church.”

That could easily sound critical. I truly believe that there are great disabilities ministry that are doing incredible work. But I also would say that I love looking out at our congregation and seeing people with physical and developmental disabilities. It is what church should look like.

I need to make clear that this is not an either/or situation. You could have people with disabilities integrated into the main worship service and offer special ministries aimed at people with disabilities, just as we would with children, youth, seniors, etc.

What does your church do in the area of disabilities?

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Why I’m Glad My Children Didn’t Come For a Visit

AutismOur two oldest children have autism and live in a group home about an hour and a half away. They normally come for visits every other week. Last weekend they were supposed to come for a visit but they didn’t. And I’m glad.

How could I be glad that my children didn’t come for a visit? Shouldn’t I want to see them as often as possible? Of course I should but autism makes everything much more complicated.

On Saturday the power went out in our area for about four or five hours. Our three youngest were not that excited to be kicked off technology but they got over it and went and played at friends’ houses. Some families probably saw it as a bit of an adventure and broke out the board games.

But things look different with autism. If Logan and Abby had been over they wouldn’t have done well with the sudden loss of power. Logan loves listening to song previews on iTunes and Abby watches Veggie Tales episodes on YouTube. It would not be good enough to just explain the situation to them. If they had been here during the power outage, a couple of meltdowns would have been likely.

It’s not that Logan and Abby can’t be away from technology. They get plenty of breaks from technology. The problem would have been that they would have expected the technology to be available and wouldn’t be prepared for the power to be out.

I’m looking forward to Logan and Abby coming for their next visit. I just hope the power is on when they are here.

 

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An Autism Challenge

Our society has come a long way when it comes to autism awareness. People know more about autism than ever before. But how well do they know people with autism?

As a part of autism awareness month, I challenge everyone to get to know one person with autism. The person could be anywhere on the spectrum. I understand that this can be challenging. Some people with autism have significant communication issues. Some may be considered nonverbal. Some people with autism also can give the impression that they are not interested in interaction. They may avoid eye contact.

None of this is an excuse to not get to know a person with autism. I know from my children, despite the way they may act toward some people, that it is possible to have a relationship with them. I also know from experience that it is possible to get to know other people with autism. They may ignore at first but there is gradual change in the relationship.

The odds are that you are aware of someone with autism. Go beyond being aware and get to know them. This is not something to be completed in a month but is a long journey that will definitely be worth it.

Autism

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Churches Need More Than Autism Awareness

Autism AwarenessThere has been an increase in autism awareness, both in general and in the church. That is a good thing but more is needed. Autism awareness means that people know what autism is and may even have some understanding about what people with autism need.

But more is needed.

It is time to move beyond autism awareness and embrace autism acceptance. Acceptance moves toward intentionally making churches welcoming places for individuals and families with autism.

I have talked with numerous people who have found churches to be unwelcoming to those with autism. Some families have told me that they were informed by their churches that their children were not welcome. Sometimes churches are not that forthright and they respond with negligence.

Churches need to be proactive in welcoming people with autism. We need to go out of our way to not just avoid negative messages but to actually send positive messages. Are we ready for this?

You can get my book, How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly.

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Caring for Special Needs People in Your Small Church

One of the most practical podcasts that I listen to is the 200 Church podcast. I was quite happy when I heard they were doing an episode on special needs. Co-host Jonny Craig has a child with special needs, so it was nut surprising.

It was a helpful discussion with some people involved in special needs ministry at Willow Creek. You can listen to the episode here.

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Stephen Hawking and Disabilities

Stephen HawkingStephen Hawking just recently died. There is much about Hawking that I disagreed with. He denied the existence of God and thought heaven was a fairy tale. I suppose he knows the truth now.

But aside from his views on God, there was much about Stephen Hawking that was praiseworthy. Without looking at any other aspect of his life, he was a brilliant scholar. I still remember the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Stephen Hawking was included with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in a poker game. Hawking will continue to be placed among the scientific giants of our age.

As inspirational as his mind was, so was the his determination in the face of a severe disability. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1963, when he was only 21 years old. He was given two years to live but died just a few days ago at the age of 76.

Hawking faced a number of challenges with his disability which included a continual loss of function. I’m sure there were many times that he was tempted to give up. But he kept going, continuing to teach and write. It was not that long ago that his final book came out.

What lessons can we learn from the life of Stephen Hawking? We are more than just a diagnosis and doctors cannot determine our destiny. It is up to us to make the best of our situation, determine to reach a goal and live life the best we can.

Stephen Hawking will long be an inspiration to people with disabilities. That may be a more valuable legacy than his contributions to science.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Embrace Those With Disabilities

DisabilitiesMany churches have embraced the concept of disabilities. Churches want diversity of gender, ethnicities, age, economic status and others. But what about disabilities?

I need to confess that I’m biased in this area. In addition to being a pastor, I’m also a father of two children with disabilities. We also have a number of people with disabilities at our church. I’m convinced of the importance of reaching out to people with disabilities.

As a pastor, I will also admit that embracing people of all abilities is challenging. It is so much more than just wheelchair ramps, elevators and accessible washrooms. It requires a radical change in church culture.

You can find my 10 Commandments to Become a Disability-Friendly Church here. But the most important thing is for us as pastors to completely buy in to the importance of welcoming and loving people with disabilities. It is the first step before even considering a disability ministry.

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Interview With Lamar Hardwick

I’m grateful to Lamar Hardwick for sharing his experience with autism. Lamar blogs at The Autistic Pastor.

Lamar Hardwick
Could you share a little about yourself and what you do?


My name is Lamar Hardwick. I am a husband, father of three boys, and the pastor of New Community Church located in Lagrange Georgia. I have been in Christian ministry for nearly 17 years and I have served as a youth pastor, young adult pastor, football coach, as well as a hospice chaplain. In addition to pastoring my church, I am also a blogger and author of two books, as well as an autism advocate.

How did you find out that you had autism?

I’ve always known that I was different from my peers my age while growing up. My father was in the military so we moved around quite a bit when I was younger so my parents and teachers thought my struggles were due to the constant relocating. Eventually I learned to blend in and excel at things that I found interest in, but it did not happen without my fair share of struggles. In 2013, our church went through a transition in pastors and I found myself really struggling with having to spend more time preaching in the adult service (I was the youth pastor at the time).
During that transition I was made aware of my inability to discern social cues and other issues that pointed to the possibility of Aspergers. After doing my own research, I realized that what I had been wrestling with since childhood was actually an autism spectrum disorder called Aspergers Syndrome. In 2014 I was officially diagnosed by a professor psychologist. I was 36 years old at the time.


How does autism affect how you minister in your church?


It has caused me to learn to depend more on my strengths and to ask for assistance with things that I am not so good with. We have been able to educate and train my staff and the congregation on the best ways to support my ministry so that the church can maximize the use of my gifts rather than expecting me to do things that I am not necessarily gifted to do. I also have to manage my time and energy in unique ways so that I can perform my duties to the best of my ability. In other ways I have been able to leverage certain characteristics often associated with autism to my advantage.

What are some of the challenges of having autism?



Some of my challenges are related to sensory processing and social anxiety. Church is often a very active social environment and the sights and sounds can be somewhat overwhelming for a church our size. While I enjoy preaching each week, there are times that meeting new people in my church can be anxiety provoking, but I have learned some ways to work through this.

What are some of the benefits of having autism?



One of the major benefits for me is that I can process large amount a of written information and I often think in terms of patterns. I am an avid reader and this in turn has made my written and verbal communication very strong which makes me a good public speaker. I have been told that I have a gift for putting words together that create images that capture people’s interest in the subject matter. I spend literally dozens of hours a week researching, writing, and practicing my sermons with a tremendous amount of focus. I attribute my ability to do this to my autism.

What misconceptions about autism do you encounter?


As a pastor one of the major misconceptions I face regularly is that I am “extremely smart” to be a person with autism. On one hand it assumes that I should not be smart because of autism, and on the other is assumes that autism impacts everyone the same way. I try very hard not to be seen as a representative of what all people with autism are like because those two assumptions about autism are not only not true, they are also really uneducated misconceptions.

How can churches become better at welcoming people with autism on all ends of the spectrum?


I have found the number one issue is to have a culture of acceptance. Of the many families that attend our church who are impacted by autism, the number one thing they cite as the most comforting aspect of our church is that they do not feel judged. I’ve found that families and individuals will be willing to work with the church on helping them create proper accommodations as long as the church has the proper attitude. The culture of the church matters and being a place where everyone is truly welcome, not just in theory but in practice, will go a long way in welcoming people with autism or any disabilities into the church. In order for the culture to be correct however, it must be communicated by the pastor. If the pastor communicates the vision for being an autism friendly church, the congregation will follow.


What word of encouragement can you give to other people with autism?


I would encourage them to know that they are valuable and that their voice is needed not only in the church but in their communities. The world needs all different types of people to lend their voice to the conversations surrounding change. The autism community has some of the most gifted and inspirational voices that the world could ever hear. Find your voice and use it to move the world closer to what it should be for all people.

Thanks Lamar!

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Miraculous Healings From Autism?

I came across an article from the Charisma magazine website written by Becky Dvorak titled Miraculous Healings for Autism Begin to Manifest. How do I respond to this?

When our children were first diagnosed with autism, we had a couple of friends message us out of frustration as to why we didn’t just ask God to heal them. A simple prayer an autism would all be behind us. Or so they suggested.

This article by Becky Dvorak was quite troubling. Like many healing evangelists, there is a lack of documentary evidence for the “healings.” I would be more impressed if developmental paediatrician or psychiatrist was able to testify to the change in symptoms. The truth is that anyone can claim anything. I have been to a number of healing meetings and have seen that what is claimed at the front is not always what really happened.

Let me make clear that I’m not denying the God can heal. I truly believe that God does heal in certain circumstances, although I don’t believe that complete health is the promise for all Christians.

What really bothered me in this article was the talk of an “autistic spirit.” The healing discussed in this article was not a healing of the brain but the expelling of a demon of autism.

Autism is not caused by an autistic spirit or any other demon. Autism is a neurological condition that is likely genetic in nature, although it may include an environmental element. Claims about autistic spirits only causes more isolation for people with autism.

Here is another problem. Having autism is not a problem. Some of the most successful people are on the autism spectrum, and their success is not in spite of their autism but because of it. Many people are able to achieve great accomplishments only because of being on the autism spectrum.

I don’t want to pretend that autism is always easy or that there is no need for prayer. We have had plenty of challenges. And we pray for our children regularly. Not only that, we have seen plenty of little miracles where God intervened in some amazing ways.

This article really bothered me. If you know people with autism, I would suggest that you not send them to Beck Dvorak or anything she has written. But do continue to pray for them.

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Autism: Explaining the Enigma – Review

AutismI recently read the book Autism: Explaining the Enigma by Uta Frith. It is an older book, having been published in 1989, but it is still useful.

I have read many books on autism but I found this book particularly interesting. One of the things the author touches on is the history of autism. Leo Kanner published a study identifying autism in 1943 and Hans Asperger published in 1944. While there were some differences between their studies, there is even more in common.

Frith goes even further in looking at the history. Autism, as a neurological disorder, must have predated the 1940s. Frith looks at a number of examples throughout history that may or may not have been autism. This includes reports of feral children as well as fictional characters ranging from Sherlock Holmes and Spock to The Who’s Tommy.

In addition to the history, Frith looks at the different aspects of autism and how they are reflected in the research. I appreciated the breaking of myths and the acknowledgment of diversity within the spectrum.

There are parts of the book that are dated. For example in the discussion of possible causes for autism, the author refutes certain false claims but never mentions the vaccine theory. Also, Firth describes autism as relatively rare, something that most people wouldn’t claim today.

Still, it was a good resource that provides a solid foundation for understanding autism.

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Wonder – Review

WonderOur family was able to watch Wonder, a movie that we have wanted to see for sometime. The movie is about August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity. For the first time, he is going to a normal school instead of homeschooling.

The movie is about his experiences, dealing with people’s reactions and trying to sort through who his real friends are. I thought Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson did a fantastic job playing his parents. A a special needs parents, their portrayal rang true.

Auggie goes through a difficult time, including the bullying you would expect. As far I know, our autistic children have not received the same sort of bullying, but we can’t be sure.

What really stood out for me was the depiction of Auggie’s big sister. People often forget the challenges that go with being a sibling of a special needs child. There are added responsibilities plus diminished parental attention. This was one of the best portrayal’s of the struggle of siblings I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Wonder was a, dare I say it, a wonderful movie. It was proof that you can tell a good story without the profanity and sex that normally is part of the equation. It was a great movie apart from the special needs element, with it Wonder was that much better.

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The Autism Opportunity Easily Missed by Churches

My observation of churches is that there is an increase in awareness and compassion about autism. The media has really brought autism to the forefront and a variety of advocacy groups have promoted autism awareness. Many people in our churches are related to or at least know someone with autism.

When a Family comes into a church with a person with severe autism, there seems to be a sincere desire to help the individual and the family. Leaders speak to parents and teams brainstorm as to how to make their church more autism-friendly.

But what about people with “mild” autism?

Mild autism, once known as Asperger’s Syndrome, is just as much a need as severe autism. I’m confident that you have such people in your church and you don’t even know it.

These are the people that are just socially awkward. They have some interests that they will talk about all the time to anyone who will listen. They may be quite intelligent, especially in certain areas, but may struggle with having a “normal” conversation.

They may or may not have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. They may be children, teens or adults. They may be on the fringes of your church community.

Just because they can speak and do well in school doesn’t mean that they not need ministry. In fact, sometimes people with mild autism struggle more than people with severe autism. The person with severe autism might not realize how different they are (or don’t care), while the person with mild autism is painfully aware.

It is up to churches to be proactive by reaching out and connecting with them, no matter how difficult it may seem at first. Get to know their interests. Look past their awkwardness.

Don’t miss out on this autism opportunity.


I added a chapter on mild autism in my book, How to Make Your Church Autism Friendly.

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A Relic From the Past

PECSOur family recently moved to a new house. It is not surprising that in the packing and unpacking that long lost items turn up. I recently noticed on the floor something that I hadn’t seen in years.I saw one of the PECS that Logan and Abby used to use.

What are PECS? It stands for picture exchange communication system. One of the aspects of autism, especially on the severe end of the spectrum, is that of communication deficiencies. This does not mean that spoken language is impossible, but the person struggles to use verbal communication as their main mode of communication.

Both Logan and Abby are considered nonverbal. When they were younger, one of the things we did was equip them with PECS. They would carry binders with small pictures of items they might want. They could use the pictures to make a sentence, such as “I want” “grilled cheese.”

This was a part of our life for quite a while. There are more advanced technologies available that do the same thing but this worked when we needed it.

Now our children can generally can ask for things they want or need. They may not use verbal communication to have conversations but they can make basic requests.


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Reflections on Teaching Accessibility Ministry

Tyndale University CollegeThis past weekend, I had the opportunity to teach a module as a part of the Certificate in Accessibility Ministry at Tyndale University College. I teach biblical studies regularly at Tyndale but topics related to disability ministry are something close to my heart.

I really enjoyed teaching on this subject. My module was on Ministering with Families with Disabilities. Although I have studied the biblical texts and theology around disabilities, my knowledge really comes from being an autism dad. My children have really shaped me and have taught me much more than I have ever taught them.

I really enjoyed spending time with the class. Many of them were parents or relatives of people with disabilities. There was much that we could share from our own experiences.

I’m so thankful that Christian Horizons and Tyndale have partnered to offer this certificate. There are so many people in our community who are affect by a disability and yet they are not reflected in our congregations. Many churches confess that they feel ill-equipped to minister to families with disabilities. That is why there is a certificate program like this.

I would like to challenge every church within driving distance of Toronto to send (at least) one person for this training. The need is great and the training is available (and affordable).

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Breathe – Review

BreatheLast night I watched the movie Breathe, directed by Andy Serkis. The movie stars Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider-Man) and Claire Foy (The Crown).

The movie is based on a true story about Robin Cavendish, a young man who was paralyzed from polio. Not only was he paralyzed, but he required a machine to keep him breathing.

When Robin is first struck down with polio, he desires to die. He couldn’t handle the idea of spending the rest of his life like that. The doctors didn’t give him much time either.

However, his wife Diana refuse to give up on him, even when he tries to reject her and their infant son. Eventually, against the doctors’ orders, Diana moves Robin out of the hospital and into their home. This renews hope for Robin and he begins to enjoy life again.

A friend develops a wheelchair that can include his ventilator and allows Robin to experience a mobility that the doctors’ thought was impossible. Instead of keeping this to himself, they work to share this technology with other disabled people.

There was plenty of good things about the movie. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy did a fantastic job in their roles. The persistent love of Diana for Robin was inspiring. As someone interested in disabilities, I really appreciated the advocacy that Robin and his friends and family did for others with disabilities. The speech that he makes at a disability conference is just as needed today as it was then.

There were some things I didn’t like. There were some negative portrayals of religion. At one point, the paralyzed Robin spits in the face of a priest. The attempted religious responses to his suffering were disappointing. It may be that they reflect Robin’s actual experience, but there are better faith responses to suffering.

I was also disappointed that Robin’s life came to an end through euthanasia. Euthanasia is a complex issue but it in the movie it was represented simply a noble escape from suffering. It was favourably compared to his escape from the hospital and regaining his mobility. Although the movie does present a positive image of disability, it also presents it as something to escape from.

Having said that, there is plenty in Breathe to make us think and reflect on life.

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How to Become a Disability-Friendly Church

Faith TodayYou may or may not know that I used to be the associate editor for Faith Today magazine. Although I have moved on to other endeavours, I’m still very excited about the magazine. I sometimes even get an article published in it myself.

This month, I had an article published, titled “How to Become a Disability-Friendly Church.” As a pastor and a parent of two children with disabilities, this is a subject that is close to my heart.

What I want people in the church to see is that you don’t have to be a large church or need to have multiple staff to be disability-friendly. In many ways it is much more a culture issue than a program issue.

The church has not always done well in welcoming people with disabilities and their families. I have heard my share of horror stories. Even the churches that do well can always improve.

I hope that you will check out my article and read the rest of the articles while you are at it. And I would like to thank Faith Today for their willingness to get this important message out.

PS I also have a book review published in this issue as well.

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Don’t You Dare Judge!

One of the outcomes that some special needs families experience is that the children move into a group home. How that takes place depends on the situation.

Ideally, the family is aware of the need of a group home before hitting a crisis. They can then get on a waiting list and a place will open up just in time when the family dynamic requires a group home.

But that is not always the case.

In our experience, the issue of a group home came after we had hit a crisis. We needed to find a group home quickly, which was not easy. There are long waiting lists.

For both Logan and Abby, we were told that we would have to abandon them in order for them to get the help they need, because that would force the government to take care of them. Thankfully, that did not need to happen and we were able to get both Logan and Abby into group homes without having to abandon them.

But it could have easily have happened the other way.

We have friends and family who were in the place that they had to abandon their child to get them into the group home. They were given the choice of remaining in ongoing crisis or abandoning the child to get the help. It is a difficult situation to be put in. No one wants to abandon their child but you can also only survive so long in a crisis situation.

It is likely that you know or will know someone who has been put in this situation. Please do not judge a family that has had to abandon their special needs child. Abandoning does not reflect a lack of love. It is actually the opposite. Abandoning is a terrible sacrifice that is only done out of great love.

You should also know that abandoning does not mean you are giving up your relationship with the child. In most cases, the parents remain very much involved in the life of the child. Abandoning is only about giving up the legal rights and the ongoing care.

If you meet such parents, please do not judge them. They have had to pay a price that no parent ever wants to pay.




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Stay Engaged With Your Special Needs Child (Part 2)

This is the first of two-part guest post by Bryan Stoudt. Visit Bryan’s website at the link found in his bio at the end of this post. You can find the first part here.


Last time, we saw how hard it can be to stay engaged with our special needs child.  But we also began to see how vitally important it is.  In this article, we’ll look at 6 practical ways we can do that. 

6 Ways We Can Stay Engaged

Bryan Stoudt1. Acknowledge that God is God, and we are not

After losing everything and meeting God very personally, Job learns that he simply cannot understand God’s ways.  That he is not in a position to question the suffering he brings into our lives (Job 40:3-5; 42:1-6).  When we admit that we are not the sovereign authority of our lives, it frees us to trust God despite the hardships and losses we’ve experienced with our special needs child.

2. See God’s love for us in Jesus.

While we can’t begin to figure out why God would allow our child to be so broken, sending Jesus to die for us on the cross shows that he cares.  ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…’ (John 3:16)  Whatever we – or our child – are facing, it’s nothing like bearing the full wrath of God for our sin like Jesus did (1 John 2:2).  God loves us, and our special needs kids, more than we can imagine, and he sent Jesus to prove it once and for all.

Honest prayer is one of the best ways to stay engaged with our kids, and Philippians 4:4-7 gives us a great model.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3. Rejoice.

Paul tells us to ‘rejoice in the Lord’.  We never, ever have to pretend that having a special needs child is easy.  But we are ‘always’ called to find joy ‘in the Lord’ because he is with us, ‘at hand’.  Being honest yet aware of God’s presence allows us to be present with our special needs children, too.

4. Reject anxiety.

It’s so easy to be anxious about all the ‘what ifs’.  What will happen if my wife and I die, and no one loves our child like we would?  What if we don’t leave our child with enough money to be well-provided for?  What if…?  Worry and anxiety pull us away from the present by placing our focus on our limited resources.  But when we are ‘not… anxious about anything’, we shift our attention to a God who can do ‘more than all we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20).  That creates a rest that allows us stay present with our special needs child.

Give thanks and ask.

Instead of sour anxiety, God invites us to ask for what we want (‘supplication’) ‘with thanksgiving’.  He loves to hear our requests, both for us and our special needs children.  It’s critical, though, that we also offer thanks wherever we can.  For example, I’m asking God to provide a great job and living situation for Matthew.  But I’m trying to be thankful that he wants to work and live independently, even though I’m not really sure it’s possible yet. 

What can you specifically be thankful for?

Expect to experience God’s supernatural peace.

When we find our joy in God, reject anxiety, and ask him for what we want with thanksgiving,  ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’  Maybe not right away, or all the time.  But this is a promise: no matter how hard things are, all of who we are can be at complete rest in Christ.  And that allows us to stay present and engaged with our special needs child, where we can serve and enjoy them.

For reflection:

  1. Which of the six suggestions above would most help you stay engaged with your special needs child?
  2. How (and when) will you put that into practice?

Bryan Stoudt is a pastor and blogger who helps Christians connect their faith to their messy, everyday lives.  He has an incredible wife, Sharon, and four beautiful children including Matthew, who has moderate to severe autism.  He writes at bryanstoudt.com.

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Special Needs Families Are Not a Monolithic Group

I speak often on the needs of families who are dealing with disabilities. My prayer to that the church will respond to those special needs. But the challenge is that the needs of each family are different. We cannot put such families into a neat and tidy category and then provide the solutions.

I was recently talking with a mother of two special needs children. There was much in her story that I could identify with and there were some common experiences. But at the same time I was struck by how different our experiences were.

Her children were both in wheelchairs and one of their biggest challenges was lack of mobility. Their physical disabilities really shaped the activity of the family.

Our story is much different. Our children with autism are physically mobile. At times that was the problem. Our son is a runner and has escaped both from our house and group homes numerous times. Police and even a canine units have been called to try and track him down. We thought we lost him permanently a couple of times.

Which of us has the easier or harder situation? I don’t think there is an answer to that question.

But it does illustrate how the experience of families with special needs can be so different. That is not to say that we can’t talk about families with special needs. We just need to do so with some acknowledgment that there are differences from family to family.

Not only is an autism family probably different from a spina bifida family, an autism family is probably different from another autism family. It is fine to go into a relationship with a family with some idea of common needs as long as we listen to hear how disabilities are being experienced uniquely in that family.

Continue to reach out to special needs families but remember every family is different.




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Stay Engaged With Your Special Needs Child (Part 1)

This is the first of two-part guest post by Bryan Stoudt. Visit Bryan’s website at the link found in his bio at the end of this post. You can find the second part here.


Bryan StoudtOur special needs kids have a special place in our hearts.  Each one is precious and unique, placed in our families as a vessel of God’s grace.

At the same time, our special kids bring special challenges that push us beyond what we thought (or think) we can handle.  And the life we would design for ourselves. 

Sometimes it’s easier to disengage and take an unplanned siesta.  I bet you can identify with me. 

My Son, Your Story

After more or less coasting with our autistic son, Matthew, for the last several years, things are changing.  We need to step up our involvement and help him get ready for life after school.

There are days, honestly, where I simply don’t feel like it. 

Just recently, I told my wife about an email exchange with the attorney helping us secure guardianship for Matthew. When it became clear that I was frustrated with all the time it was taking, and had missed an important detail, she expressed concern.

‘I’m worried you’re going to just do what’s expedient, instead of what’s best for Matthew.’

You could have heard a pin drop in my heart.  She was right.  God is calling me to slow down, engage and make some sacrifices for our son.  But it’s hard, and selfishly I don’t always want to.

I’m not sure what challenges you’re facing with your special needs child.  Each of our kids is so different.

And each of us is so different.  Some of you, like me, may sense that God is calling you to get back in the game.  Some of you are giving all you can, but feel exhausted and tempted to give up or step back. 

Staying engaged with our kids for the long haul can feel like running a race we haven’t really trained for.  It’s a challenge for at least three reasons.

Three Challenges Of Staying Engaged

1 – It takes a lot of time.  The details of caring for our special needs children can consume a lot of time.  Time that our other kids don’t require. 

2 – It can feel overwhelming.  Caring and planning for our special needs child forces us to learn new things and gain skills.  Few of us, for example, have experience with the particular laws and government resources that apply to our child’s situation.  While others are often available to help, there’s a certain weariness that comes with taking on something unfamiliar, especially when that happens on multiple fronts. 

Venturing into new territory also brings us face-to-face with our insecurities and fear of failure. If we focus on ourselves, rather than leaning into God, we will wear ourselves out with burdens we were never intended to carry.

3 – It forces us to face, yet again, deeply painful realities.  The grief that accompanies staying engaged with our special needs children is not paid in full at the time of their diagnosis.  No, it’s paid over time, often in moments we can’t anticipate.

I love Matthew deeply.  With all my heart.  He is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and as deeply loved as my other kids.

But he is not the son I had hoped for. 

Many years ago, friends of ours stayed with us during a visit to the area.  They have a son Matthew’s age, and at one point he took a model sailboat off our bookshelf and began describing it to me in detail.  I can remember – like it was yesterday – thinking, ‘this is what it would be like if Matthew was a normal kid’.  His ability to communicate was so far beyond anything Matthew would ever be capable of.  It was all I could do to not break down right there in front of everyone.

If you have a child with special needs or autism, you have experienced the death of dreams for him or her, too.  And the kind of relationship you desperately long for.  That aches in a place no medicine can reach.

Not The God We Had Hoped For

But if we’re even more honest, our special needs kids force us to face an even deeper, more painful reality. 

That God is not the God we had hoped for. 

A God that allows heartbreak not just in general, but for us in particular.  A God who has the authority to let everything good disappear from our lives (Job 1-2), or, to even cause hardship and disaster for his own wise, mysterious purposes (see Lamentations 1:1-16). 

A God who refuses to answer all our questions.  Like why he allowed our child to have special needs.

We have learned very personally, like Susan and Lucy from CS Lewis’s Narnia, that while God is ‘good’ he certainly isn’t ‘safe’.  At least not in the sense of giving us what we want.

All this can seem rather depressing.  And tempt us to check out and just survive.  To disengage, and keep our distance from a life we never really wanted.

But as sons and daughters of our Father, we know that life, however hard, is truly found in Christ (John 1:4, 14:6).  And in staying present and engaged with our special needs kids.  In the second, final part of this mini-series, we’ll take a look at 6 practical ways we can do that.

Question for reflection:

Where are you specifically finding it hard to stay engaged with your special needs child (or children)?

Be watching for the second part of this post.


Bryan Stoudt is a pastor and blogger who helps Christians connect their faith to their messy, everyday lives.  He has an incredible wife, Sharon, and four beautiful children including Matthew, who has moderate to severe autism.  He writes at bryanstoudt.com.

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A Simple Way to Make Your Church More Accessible

When you think about an accessible church, what do you think of? Perhaps the installation of an elevator or a wheelchair ramp. Maybe hearing assisting devices or specially designed washrooms.

Those are good but there is another way to make your church accessible and it will not cost you much, if anything.

Have you ever considered posting the audio and texts of your sermons on the church website? And what does that have to do with accessibility?

There are many types of disability and some of them include a form of social anxiety. For some people, coming to a crowded church is beyond their ability. Even if they come, they might not be able to concentrate on the sermon.

For others, auditory learning might not work for them. While some can listen to a sermon and absorb the content, others learn by other means. Perhaps they are more of visual learners.

We had a young man at our church who suffered from anxiety. He thanked me for posting my sermons on our website. His anxiety didn’t allow him to join us for worship in person, but he still wanted to learn about the Bible. My online sermons made that possible.

Some pastors might push back by saying they want to create an authentic community, something that cannot be done online. While I would also prefer that people gather personally for corporate worship, taking a strong stand on that does exclude certain people.

So when you are thinking about how to make your church accessible, consider how sermons are made available. You can find what I do with my messages here.




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The Moment That Haunts Me

They say you should never live with regrets. That may be so, but there are certain events that I do regret that I didn’t act differently. I will share one moment that still haunts me.

Years ago I attended a Pentecostal church (this post is not meant to be a criticism of Pentecostals). I was a part of a young adults group that included a Sunday school class before the service. One of the people in the group had an acquired brain injury that left him largely paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

At the time, we had been having a healing evangelist preach in our church, claiming that healing was available to all who would just ask. All you needed was to pray and it was done. But this young man in the wheelchair was a reminder that something was off somewhere.

The leader of our young adult class prayed for the young man’s healing and then told him that all he needed to do is respond in obedience and receive his healing. It sure looked like he was still paralyzed.

Our leader was convinced that the young man was just buying into the lie that he was not healed. We just needed to help him see that the healing had already taken place.

So our leader took one side of him and had me grab the other side and we tried to force him to walk up and down the halls of the church. Not just for a few minutes, but for perhaps twenty minutes, we forced this young man to try and walk, all the while trying to convince him that he was already healed.

I knew that what we were doing was wrong. But I was a coward and did not speak up. What was taking place was both bad theology and bad pastoral care. I’m embarrassed that I was ever involved in that event.

I’m not saying that is always wrong to pray for someone to be healed from a disability. But there is an appropriate and healthy way to do it. What we did was not that.

I can’t change the past but I can work toward advocating for people with disabilities and making churches safe places for all for every ability.




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Recognizing Autism

One of the most important reminders about autism is that everyone with autism is different. My mantra is “if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” The worst thing is assuming all people with autism are the same.

Having said that, people with autism in their lives can often recognize autism in other people. I sometimes refer to it as A-dar. It is like radar, but being able to detect autism.

It is common for us to be out somewhere and to give a knowing look to each other. It may be the eye contact, hand gestures, awkward communication or something else. We recognize autism in other people.

The funny thing is that it takes place with both “mild” and “severe” autism. I find that I can recognize people who have what was once called Asperger’s Syndrome. There are people I know who I’m convinced are on the autism spectrum, even though they have never been diagnosed.

Why do I share this?

When my A-dar goes off, I feel a connection with the person and their family. There are things that we have in common even if the symptoms and manifestations might be different. We are all part of the larger autism family.

How about you? If you have autism in your life, do you recognize it in others?




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5 Ways Churches Can Help Support Families With Disabilities

One of my passions is to help churches be welcoming and safe places for families with disabilities. I come at this both as a pastor and as a father of two children with autism.

My impression is that churches feel as if becoming disability-friendly is a difficult goal. The truth is that there are some simple things that can be done that can make a difference.

Here are five ways that churches can support families with disabilities.

  1. How to Make Your Church Autism FriendlyThe first step is just to acknowledge and sympathize with the fact that it is always easier for the family not to come to church. Any family with children will find challenges getting everyone together. For families with disabilities, there may be both practical and emotional obstacles to church attendance. Families with disabilities may need more than a simple invitation.
  2. One of the most important things is for people to not give dirty looks if someone with a disability makes noise during a worship service. The family is usually hyper-sensitive to these noises already and a nasty look from another person can be very destructive.
  3. Treat everyone in the family with respect and dignity. Talk directly to the person with the disability and not just the caregiver or family member.
  4. Take the time to find out what the family needs. Many families are looking for respite. Others might need help getting some chores done around the house. There may be significant financial needs as well. In our case, our church helped us raise money for our service dog. Don’t assume what they need, actually have the conversation.
  5. Become a student. This can be by spending time with families and listening to their story. It could be reading books on disabilities in general and the intersection with faith in particular. Read about what the Bible says about disabilities. Families don’t expect you to be a professional but they will recognize and appreciate a teachable spirit.

Bonus Idea: Try to include families with disabilities into the life of the church. We often found that people assumed we were too busy or too exhausted to be included. Living with disabilities can be quite isolating. Be proactive in embracing families.

What would you add?




 

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The Power of Little Victories

What are the things that you celebrate as a parent? It may be your child getting their driver’s licence or graduating from university. We may be looking for the big things to get excited about.

Things are different for autism parents.

Two of our children with autism live in a group home over an hour away. They come for visits every other week. While everyone with autism is different, the one thing that is likely to be common is a need for routine. Even a minor change in routine can lead to a meltdown.

We have a routine for our visits. The group home brings Logan and Abby to us and I drive them back to the group home. This is a strict routine. Our daughter can’t even handle having my wife join us for the drive. We get in the car, stop at Tim Hortons and drive back.

However, this weekend my wife was away and I had all five of our kids. There was no way for me to drive them back. Not only will Abby not let our other three children in the car with her, the car couldn’t fit us all anyway.

The plan was for the group home to drive both ways. They were willing but would Abby? I had my doubts.

Well, the van pulled up in the driveway and I went downstairs to get Logan and Abby. I said a little prayer and cheerfully brought them to the door.

There was no problem. Logan and Abby happily went into the van and drove back to the group home.

Most parents wouldn’t think twice about this but this was a big deal for us. Abby (and Logan, who has a bit more patience for change) were able to make a major change in routine.

Autism parents will understand the relief that was felt when the van drove off without incident. Thank God for small victories!

Bedard Family


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Autism and Mental Health

Although autism is not a mental illness, there is a connection. The stress of either being on the autism spectrum or caring for someone on the autism spectrum can greatly affect mental health.

I had an opportunity recently to talk to Jordan Berta on his podcast, The Unspoken Conversation. Jordan has a tremendous passion for expanding the conversation about mental health. In this episode, I talk about how autism has influenced mental health within our family.

You can listen to the episode here.




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What Does Jesus Want Our Churches to Look Like?

I was preparing for an upcoming sermon and came across an interesting passage.

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

I found this passage to be quite challenging for what church should look like. Although the immediate context is about who we have table fellowship with, it is not much of a stretch to apply this to the church.

As a pastor, I need to make a confession. There are certain potential members that I get more excited over more than others.

  • A rich person who could be a potentially generous tither.
  • A business person or politician who has useful connections and leadership skills.
  • A well educated person who has much to give to the congregation.

But what about people with disabilities?

I need to be clear that there are plenty of rich people, business people, politicians and people who are well-educated who also have disabilities.

DisabilitiesBut in the context, Jesus is talking about people with disabilities who are unable to repay what people give them. There is nothing that they can bring to provide immediate blessings to a congregation by concrete means.

How do we see people with disabilities? Do we see them as people who are going to require more of our valuable time? Do we see them as a distraction from the “excellence” we are trying to achieve in our worship services?

I’m thankful that my church is disability friendly and that we have people with physical and developmental disabilities. Some of them have skills and abilities by which they can bless the church. Others are just people to be loved.

Still, this passage challenges me, even as a dad of two children with disabilities, as to how I see church. What are we doing to really welcome all people?




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The Reason I Blog About Autism

I often say that I blog for myself, that it is it is a way for me to sort through my thoughts and at times vent about what is bugging me. But I must confess that there is another reason. Deep down, I hope that blogging about autism will make a difference in some small way.

I don’t normally expect to hear about how my blogging helps people. Even small incremental changes in awareness would be enough for me.

But last week, I received a message that blew me away. My friend Matthew sent me a message about an experience he had. I asked his permission to share the message, not to pat myself on the back, but to encourage all the other autism and disability bloggers out there.

This is what Matthew said:

Today at an amusement park here in Michigan, I was in line waiting to buy some lunch. Behind me I heard odd random loud noises being shouted from someone. For some reason I thought of your autism blog and I thought, “Perhaps that individual has autism so don’t turn around and stare or look for the culprit, just go about your day.”

So a little further in line I was able to see the person and I’m pretty confident he did indeed have autism. Anyways, a few more minutes pass and I move farther in line to where we’re actually standing right by each other except there was a railing between us. So I was leaning on the railing and suddenly I feel two hands on my shoulders and then I turn and the boy is laying his head on my left shoulder.

Again, thinking of your autism blog posts and autistic behaviour, I simply smiled and said, “Hey there! how are you?” He sorta smiled (he was mostly avoiding eye contact) and gave me a sort of half hug. I then asked, “Are you having fun today?” And his mother looks at him and encourages him to respond. He responds with “Fun!!” And gave us both a good laugh.

I wanted to share this story with you because I’ve learned so much about autism from you and your blog. You help me understand ASD a little better and that’s why I felt so at ease around this boy today, whereas 5-10 years ago I may have felt uncomfortable! So thank you very much and keep up the awesome work!

This makes it all worth it. I can imagine what it was like to be that boys mother and have a stranger respond in such a friendly and natural way. Thank you Matthew for the encouragement.


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5 Reasons You Should Get the Certificate in Accessible Ministry

Christian Horizons and Tyndale University College have partnered to offer a Certificate in Accessible Ministry. What is this certificate? Here is the description from the website:

“Everyone welcome!” many of our church signs proclaim. As people involved in ministry, or students looking to serve in ministry, we know that all too often, this is not the reality for all. People with disabilities and their families are often marginalized and excluded due to the physical, communicative, or attitudinal barriers they face. Developed in collaboration with Christian Horizons, this certificate program will equip people to foster belonging in all aspects of ministry and outreach with people living with a disability and their families. Engaging modules address practical, theological, and relational aspects of being the Body of Christ as people of unique abilities—together.

But why should you consider getting such a certificate?

Here are five reasons that I thought were compelling:

  1. Many churches know that ministry to and with people with disabilities is important but feel ill-equipped to do it well. This certificate will provide practical and biblical support for those who want to minister in this area.
  2. Tyndale University College is one of Canada’s top Christian universities. I have taught biblical studies at Tyndale for a number of years and I’m continually impressed with the quality of their theological education.
  3. Christian Horizons has been involved in disability ministry in one form or another for over fifty years. This organization has gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to disabilities. This is an opportunity too good not to miss.
  4. The certificate is extremely affordable. I know from experience that theological education can be quite expensive. And yet this certificate is remarkably affordable. Each module costs only $75. You read that right, $75! That is something that most people can afford and that churches could pay for to send people.
  5. The certificate does not require a huge time commitment. Each module takes place on a Saturday and there is a month between each module. People working full-time could easily fit this in their schedule.

Bonus Reason: I’m teaching one of the modules and would love to have you learning with us.

I hope that you will consider this certificate program. Talk to your church and pass on the word.

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Certificate in Accessible Ministry

One of my passions is to equip churches to minister to and with people with disabilities. That is why I’m excited about a new and amazing collaboration between two of my favourite organizations: Tyndale University College and Christian Horizons.

These two organizations are working together to offer a Certificate in Accessible Ministry. This is a way that people can get specialized training in welcoming people with disabilities. Here is a quote from the website:

“Everyone welcome!” many of our church signs proclaim. As people involved in ministry, or students looking to serve in ministry, we know that all too often, this is not the reality for all. People with disabilities and their families are often marginalized and excluded due to the physical, communicative, or attitudinal barriers they face. Developed in collaboration with Christian Horizons, this certificate program will equip people to foster belonging in all aspects of ministry and outreach with people living with a disability and their families. Engaging modules address practical, theological, and relational aspects of being the Body of Christ as people of unique abilities—together.

accessibilityThe first module is coming up. It is titled Introduction to Disability and the Church. It will be taught by Neil Cudney and Andrea Foster. This would be a great way of finding out if this certificate is for you.

One of the great things about this certificate is the price. It is extremely reasonable. I have researched a number of certificate programs in various areas of theological education and I’m amazed at how low the tuition is. Each module is only $75! That’s amazing.

I love the idea of this program. In fact I love it so much that I will be teaching one of the modules myself. Mine will be Ministering with Families with Disabilities.

But I’m not promoting this because I’m a teacher. I’m promoting it because I’m both a pastor and father of two children with disabilities. I know that many churches don’t feel equipped to welcome people with disabilities.

This certificate program removes the concern about lack of knowledge or background. Imagine if every church within travelling distance of Tyndale invested in this by sending just one person to be trained.

I hope that you will consider this. If you are interested, here is the link to register for the first module. It is worth considering.

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A World Without Disabilities?

Down SyndromeCBS recently reported on Iceland and how they have almost “eradicated Down Syndrome. One of the people in the article said:

My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society — that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.

What does that mean? Have they found a cure for Down syndrome? Is there a new genetic therapy that corrects the chromosomal anomaly that causes Down syndrome?

The truth is that Iceland is doing, although more efficiently than most, what many countries are doing. They test mothers for the likelihood that their child will have Down syndrome and then give them the option to abort the baby.

Am I suggesting that it is wrong to have this test?

We were offered and rejected the test for our son. We were strongly recommended to take the test with our daughter because there were indications of other chromosome problems during the pregnancy. We informed the doctors that we would not abort but agreed to take the test just to know what we would be dealing with.

In the CBS article, geneticist Kari Stefansson made this insightful comment:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.

We should weigh those words carefully.

I think we need to ask two questions. One is whether we want a world with a disabilities. People often identify disabilities with suffering. However, the people with Down syndrome are some of the happiest people I’ve met.

I know that they are working on a similar test for autism. We have two children with autism. Even being on the severe end of the spectrum, they are full of life and love. I would never suggest that they are “suffering.” There is no part of me that wishes that they had been aborted to spare either them or ourselves the pain of disability.

Who gets to decide what life is worth living? What level of disability needs to be terminated?

I’ve no problem with genetic research into the various syndromes and disorders that are out there. We may reach a level of knowledge that some prenatal treatment may improve the quality of life.

But abortion is not that treatment. This brings us to the second question. Should abortion be used to cultivate a disability-free society?

Some may reject my attitude toward abortion as a religious dogma. After all, I’m a Christian pastor.

The truth is that I embraced the pro-life position during my time as an atheist. At a time when I didn’t believe in an afterlife, I thought that every life was worth receiving a shot. If there was no afterlife, this was the only chance we get.

The point that I’m trying to make with this post is that what Iceland is achieving is not a beautiful thing.

I would like to conclude with something from the CBS article. The article mentions a woman named Thordis Ingadottir, who received the test, was told there was only a slim chance that her child would have Down syndrome and yet he daughter was still born with Down syndrome.

If life with disability is so terrible, one might think that she would advocate that more women should take seriously the test results and abort all babies with a chance of Down syndrome.

Instead, this is what she has done:

Since the birth of her daughter, Ingadottir has become an activist for the rights of people with Down syndrome.

As Agusta grows up, “I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That’s my dream,” Ingadottir said. “Isn’t that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?

 




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Disabilities and the Innocence of Children

Faith BedardWe had an interesting conversation the other day. Our three youngest children are aged 9-11. We were talking about what it will be like when they get their driver’s license. Our youngest, Faith (aged 9), made a comment about our oldest, Logan (aged 16). She asked if Logan would be getting his license soon.

Logan, along with our daughter Abby (aged 14), both have autism. They are on the severe end of the spectrum and are considered nonverbal. They live together in a group home.

It was an awkward moment for me as Faith had not even thought about how autism would affect Logan’s future. I casually commented that Logan would probably not be getting his license.

That’s when Faith made her next comment. Still not seeing how autism limits Logan, she asked how Logan will get around without a license after he gets married and has children.

It has never entered our mind that Logan would get married and have a family. That and driving and many other goals were things that we gave up when Logan was diagnosed with autism.

I’m still not sure how to react to Faith’s innocence in these matters. Should I rejoice that Faith does not see her brother as disabled? Or do I grieve that this is a reminder of dreams that have been dashed?

I choose to see Faith’s comments as something beautiful, even if they bring a tinge of pain. The truth is that I don’t know what the future holds for any of us.

Maybe I just need a little Faith.




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When People Stare

I recently shared about taking our son with autism out to the park. While we see Logan regularly, it had been a long time since he had been out in public. That is other than church, and our church has known about Logan long before they met him.

We had a lot of fun, but one of the things that we notice was that some people gave us some funny looks. I had forgotten what that was like.

Why would people stare?

Logan makes some interesting sounds, including humming and some strange laughs. He also scripts from movies. In addition, he usually has some sort of square shaped toy wrapped in either a sock or a plastic bag (or both). Some of his behaviour is not typical of a sixteen year-old boy.

Is it okay to look at people with disabilities this way?

There is nothing wrong with looking. I tend to notice people with disabilities and they get an extra look out of interest.

The fact is that I look at people who have interesting tattoos or who are wearing rock shirts featuring one of my favourite bands. I won’t even mention people-watching at Wal-Mart!

If you want to take a look at my son or daughter with autism as they walk around, go for it. They may make some some funny sounds or do some strange hand gestures.

Just don’t judge. You will have no idea of the intelligence (intellectually or emotionally) of my children after just observing them for two minutes. They are much more than just what you see or hear.

The people you see in public may or may not have a disability. Have some grace and perhaps say a little prayer for the people you see. Maybe someone will do that for you as well.

Stephen Bedard




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Seven Years Ago Today

Abby Bedard

Abby arriving at the group home for the first time.

Today it is seven years since our daughter went to live in a group home. She was seven years-old at that time. That means that she has now lived half her life away from us.

What could cause parents to voluntarily let their seven year-old daughter be taken away?

We have had people judge us for this decision but I have no need to defend our decision. I will share only for the sake of those truly interested.

Abby’s autism caused a number of difficult behaviours. She was very destructive to our home. Amanda and I would spend every evening repairing the walls to our living room as soon as Abby went to bed.

What was worse was her behaviour toward our other children. If they got into her space or if they disturbed her arrangement of toys, she would attack them physically. Our son was only four years-old at the time and he still remembers.

It was not an easy decision and it came with a load of guilty feelings. We certainly had no idea at the time that we would eventually have to make the same decision about Logan.

Do we regret our decision?

I regret that circumstances required this decision but I don’t regret the decision itself.

We have a fantastic relationship with Logan and Abby (thankfully they are in the same group home now). Abby enjoys coming here. I see her huge smile as the van pulls up in our driveway and she comes running to our front door. We have lots of cuddles and laughter.

But Abby is fine to go back to her group home as well. When I drop her off, she does not get all emotional, feeling sad that I’m leaving her. She will say to me, “Bye, Abby,” telling me what I’m supposed to say. If I spend too much time chatting with her workers, she will remind me that our visit is over.

One this seventh anniversary of Abby’s move out of our house, I do feel sad. I wish that Abby (and Logan) did not have to leave us. But hindsight only confirms that we made the right decision.

I sincerely wish that autism had not affected them this way, but we have made the best decision with the life that was given to us.

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Disabilities and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

One of the hardest hitting parables that Jesus ever taught was the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. There is a danger of protestants passing over this parable out of a desire to protect justification by faith.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

The problem with this parable is that the focus (at least on the surface) is not on faith or correct theology but on our actions.

Not only does Jesus teach that we need to help people in need, Jesus actually identifies with such people. This leaves not much room for dismissing this as a focus for Christian life.

When I read this parable, I think of those with disabilities, as well as others. Why doesn’t Jesus specifically mention the disabled in this parable?

The focus for Jesus in this parable is not the labels or categories in which we place people, but in the needs. The truth is that many people with disabilities have the same needs mentioned in this parable.

In addition, we would be mistaken if we saw this as a comprehensive list that assumed there was no motivation to provide for needs not specifically mentioned in the parable. The point is to care for the vulnerable, no matter what the particular need is.

Some churches attempt to address this parable through prison ministries, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I think those are very important and are good ways to do what Jesus calls us to do.

I would ask, what about those with disabilities? Is your church doing anything to help and welcome those with disabilities? Is there something that you could do?

Before I conclude, what about faith and correct theology? Does this parable provide an alternative for pleasing God? Not at all. I believe that the expectation is that devout faith and correct beliefs about God will lead to the actions described.




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Why I Tease My Daughter With Autism

Stephen BedardMy oldest daughter is 14 years-old and has autism. And I like to tease her.

Don’t worry, I don’t tease her about having autism. I’m not that much of a jerk.

Abby doesn’t like it when I sing. That of course is normal and has nothing to do with autism. That is just common sense.

But what Abby really doesn’t want me to do is to sing songs from Veggie Tales. She loves Veggie Tales and she loves the songs. But the songs belong on the TV and not coming out of Dad’s mouth.

Knowing this, I will start to sing some silly song from Veggie Tales and Abby will run over to me, place her hands on my mouth and tell me, “No singing!”

Once I get her going, I will get her attention and just make the facial expressions as if I’m about to sing to get a reaction out of her.

Is this mean? Perhaps, but when we do this and I start with those facial expressions, I see her grin because she knows exactly what I’m doing.

But why do I tease Abby? Isn’t having autism enough without being teased?

The truth is that I tease my other children all the time. I tell my other daughters that all they are getting for Christmas is knitted underwear with a Donald Trump’s face on it. That gets a reaction.

The only child I don’t tease is Logan (who also has autism). The reason is that he is so easy going, I haven’t found something that gets him going. But I’m looking.

When I tease Abby, I do it out of the same affection that I tease my other children. If I thought it was making her sad, I wouldn’t do it. But I can read her facial expressions and we are both having fun with it.

Teasing is a way to bring a sense of normalcy to our relationship. When I see that she knows what I’m doing, there is real communication going between us.

And that’s why I tease my daughter.




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How Diverse Do You Want Your Church to Be?

I have listened to a number of podcasts and read some books that have argued for increased diversity within the church. I am all for this. One of the things that I love about Queen Street Baptist Church is our diversity. In a recent service, approximately two-thirds of the congregation indicated they were born outside of Canada.

Much of the diversity that is argued for is racial diversity. While things are much better where I am, I understand that there is much more to be done. Racial diversity is needed not just in the pews, but in the leadership.

I hear people calling for increased diversity within churches with regard to race, gender, economic status, culture, sexual orientation and so on. All these are markers of a healthy church.

But I keep waiting for one more category and don’t hear it.

What about diversity when it comes to those with physical or developmental disabilities?

This seems to be the one holdout when it comes to diversity. Perhaps leadership can see how other diversity can benefit the church but don’t see it when it comes to those with disabilities.

I have mentioned how I appreciate the diversity within QSBC. That includes diversity in terms of abilities. This is not something that I have had to bring to the congregation. They have been welcoming to people who have Down Syndrome, autism and many other disabilities. When we brought our son with autism, they didn’t even skip a beat.

The point of this post is not to brag about my church (although I did) but to challenge you on how diverse you really want your church to be? Are you willing to open up that diversity to people with disabilities? I sure hope so.




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Good News: First Communion

Today may have been one of the most amazing mornings at church in my life. I shared a couple of weeks ago about how we brought our son with autism to church for the first time.

This weekend we had Logan and Abby for a day visit from their group home. Logan requested that he stay over night. When I asked Logan if he wanted to go to church, he quickly said “yes” and shook his head vigorously in the affirmative. In the morning I brought out one of my sports coats and offered it to Logan. You should have seen his face brighten up at the thought of dressing like dad for church.

Logan Bedard

tLogan on the way to church.

People at our church were excited to see Logan again and some got to meet him for the first time. Logan even got to meet another young man with autism that attends our church. All of this would be good enough but it got better.

In our church, we only have communion once a month. Amanda and I hadn’t talked ahead of time about what to do with Logan during communion. As I led communion from the front, I watched Amanda and Logan. Logan was very present, which is not always the case. He was really paying attention. He took the bread and ate it with the rest of us. As I lifted the cup to lead the congregation, Logan raised his cup with me. This was Logan’s first communion.

I was able to watch the entire thing and I will tell you that I wanted to immediately switch from my pastor hat to my dad hat and run and embrace my son. I was feeling very emotional and barely got through the rest of the service.

Amanda told me that not only was Logan very present, he was a bit teary after taking communion. Even though he is nonverbal, he understands and he connected with God in this sacrament.

This was a very emotional day for us. There are some stressful things taking place in our family right now but this felt like God lightening our load with a special blessing. Amanda described it as a “holy and sacred moment.”

Our intention is to baptize Logan as we are confident that he has a faith, even if he can’t verbally express it. God blessed our family this morning and this is Good News.

 

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Wrestling With an Angel – Review

Wrestling With an AngelWhen it comes to being parents of children with disabilities, there is a connection that goes deep. Even if we have never met or our circumstances are different, there is a commonality and emotional bond. I found this recently with a book by Greg Lucas titled Wrestling With an Angel.

Although we are both dads with child(ren) with autism, there are differences. His son has other disabilities as well and he lives at home while my children live in a group home. Still, his story resonated with me and it poked at emotions I have kept buried.

I love the title of this book. In the Old Testament, Jacob wrestles with an angel and walks away with a limp. It is one of the most important moments in the Old Testament. For Greg, wrestling with an angel is an everyday occurrence. He has to physically force his son to have his diaper changed and to have a bath.

What I enjoyed about this book is that it is filled with the reality of life with a disabled child. Greg shares the sorrow and the unexpected blessings. But it is more than that. It is a theological reflection of where God is in such moments.

Reading this book was a blessing to my life. Our situations may be different, but we share the experience of wrestling with angels.

 

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Don’t Pet the Service Dog!

Service DogI was at the hospital today visiting someone. As we walked into the hospital, we saw someone with a service dog waiting to pay for parking. I also the person in front of us reach out and start petting the dog. I wanted to warn the person not to do it but it was too late. The person with the service dog needed to tell the person to stop.

I understand this situation from both sides. We have a service dog (now retired) in our family. He is an autism service dog and we worked with our son Logan. The purpose of the service dog was for safety for Logan. Logan was tethered to Halo and he could go only as far as the dog would let him.

When we would be out, there would often be people who would try and pet Halo. I usually was able to stop people. There would be a few people who would ask first. It was still a no but I appreciated that they asked. There was a big badge on his jacked that said “Don’t pet,” but most people didn’t seem to notice.

It is important not to pet a service dog when they are in jacket. There is meant to be a strict difference between life in and out of jacket. When they are in jacket, they are working. Petting a service dog in jacket confuses them. It also teaches them to seek attention when they are supposed to be focused on the needs of the person they are working with.

When a dog is out of jacket, they are a dog. We played hard with Halo when he was out of jacket and had lots of fun. But when that jacket was on, it was strictly business.

At the same time, I understand the temptation. Our dog is adorable and so are many service dogs. We had people who knew they were not supposed to pet Halo but loved him so much that they would put their hands in their pockets to stop themselves.

I know that it is hard, but if you see a service dog of any kind, do not pet them if they are in jacket. Even if you can’t identify a person with a disability, the dog is off limits.

 

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Autism and Quality Time

Last weekend, our children with autism were visiting from their group home. It is always great to have them with us.

Stephen BedardAt one point, Our daughter Abby was playing in the backyard. I grabbed a book and sat out on the deck while she played. Part of me felt guilty for reading rather than playing with here. Wouldn’t a good dad put the book down and play?

When I say that Abby was playing, what I mean is that she was digging in the dirt beneath the deck. I know Abby well enough to know that if I tried to join her, she would either say “No thank you!” or take my arm and escort me away. Digging in the dirt is her thing. She wouldn’t even want me to stand behind her and watch over her shoulder.

That is not to say she was upset about me being outside with her. In a way, what we were doing was parallel play. She dug in the dirt (hi digger) and I read some philosophy (Heidegger). It is not the traditional way of interacting but it works for us.

When Abby wants direct interaction, she lets us know. For example, she made it clear when she was ready for us to go for a drive to Tim Horton’s.

It is important not to judge what quality time looks like. Quality time is not less than the traditional way, with autism it is just different.

 

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A Place of Healing – Review

A Place of HealingPerhaps one of the first Christian “celebrities” that I ever heard of was Joni Eareckson Tada. She has an amazing story and has accomplished much more than many people without a disability.

However, early in my Christian walk I was involved in a number of Pentecostal churches. While this is not indicative of all (or even most) Pentecostals, there were some that were critical Joni. There was some confusion as to why she just didn’t ask God to heal her. Sure, she had done some great ministry, but God would be much more glorified if she was supernaturally healed. I didn’t know what to think.

Many years later, my theology has developed significantly. This is both through study of the Bible and life circumstances. We have two children with severe autism. Not long after their diagnoses, we had close friends express frustration to us as to why we didn’t just ask God to heal them and be done with it. All we had to do was ask. The truth is that I have asked many time. While we have seen God move in amazing lives in our children’s lives, they have not been healed.

What does this have to do with Joni’s book, A Place of HealingMuch of this book is a reflection on healing, disability and suffering. While it has many years since Joni’s accident and she has come to terms with being a quadriplegic, she now suffers from chronic pain. The question of healing is once more on the table.

This book was lent to me and it sat on a shelf for a while. Although I didn’t fully know what the book was about, it was a timely read because of my own health. I started reading this book after a flare-up of sarcoidosis which includes significant pain. While my pain is nothing compared to what Joni has gone through, reading this book meant a lot.

What I like about this book is that it balances both biblical truth and real life experience. Joni’s writing is neither purely theoretical no experiential. This book is at the cross roads of the gospel and life as it really is.

I really appreciated A Place of Healing, both as one who experiences pain and as a father of two children with disabilities. I found the book to be both inspiring and encouraging. I can see how it would disappoint some people. Life would be less messy if we just asked and were healed every time. But Jesus never claimed that following him would not be messy.


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Good News: Bringing Our Son to Church

Today was one of the happiest Sundays in my life. Many people take it for granted that they can go to church as a family. In our case, our two oldest children have autism and live in a group home 1.5 hours away. It has been around six years since Abby has been with us at church and three years for Logan.

Today that changed for Logan.

The plan was for us to just have a day visit with Logan and Abby on Saturday. When it was time for me to bring them back to the group home, Logan told us he wanted to stay. Amanda told him that this meant coming to church. He told her he wanted to come to church. By the way, Logan is nonverbal so him telling us this is a big deal.

Stephen BedardSo I brought Abby back and Logan stayed over night. When it was time to go to church, Logan was ready to go. Logan had been to Queen Street Baptist Church before for a men’s breakfast but never for a service. This helped because he knew the building and had met some of the men.

It was such a joy to have Logan at church with us. Yes, he made some noise. That’s part of autism. But QSBC is an autism-friendly church and they are comfortable with autism sounds. No one complained. In fact, they were very excited to meet Logan. When I announced that Logan was there, they applauded.

It takes more than just applause to be an autism-friendly church. Do you know what tells us that QSBC is autism-friendly? When people came up to us after the service, they didn’t talk to me about Logan, they talked to Logan directly. Amanda told me that some people completely ignored her while they were connecting with Logan.

And connecting they did. There were some pretty big smiles on Logan. He may be a person of few words, but we can read him well. I was very proud of both Logan and my church.

This will be a memory that will long stay with me. This is Good News.

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Do You Have People With Autism in Your Church?

The CDC has said that 1 in 68 children are born with autism. In Canada, the numbers are about 1 in 94. Those are some pretty significant numbers.

My question to you is: Do you have people with autism in your church? I don’t mean just children, but people in general.

If you do not have any, I would encourage you to ask why. Have you had families with autism that have visited and not come back? Is there something about your service that might turn off someone with autism? Do you openly reject people with autism because it might spoil the “show” (this actually happens more often than you would think)?

Perhaps you have people with autism at your church and you don’t realize it. Many people have a stereotypical idea of what a person with autism is like. There are people who have what was once called Asperger’s Syndrome (that diagnosis is now just Autism Spectrum Disorder) who may lack what you consider to be autistic traits and just seem to be socially awkward. Take some time to talk to some of those people who are on the fringe of your church community and try to understand them better.

If you do have people with autism in your church (and I hope you do), what are you doing about it? Are you as interested in accommodating a person with autism as you are a person with a wheelchair? How do you include them? Are you intentional about embracing them or are you paralyzed with uncertainty about what to do?

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. I hope that we have made progress with bringing the races together. How segregated are we when it comes to people with developmental disabilities (or disabilities in general)?


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Adventures of SuperCaptainBraveMan: A Spectrum of Love – Review

I recently encountered a series of books called The Adventures of SuperCaptainBraveMan. While I haven’t read the first book, I was sent a copy of the second book called A Spectrum of Love.

The premise of the series is that there is young boy named Kyle who has a rare condition that limits his mobility. But when he dreams at night, he becomes SuperCaptainBraveMan and is able to do all the things that he wants to do.

SuperCaptainBraveManIn this book, Kyle and his mom visit a new family in the neighbourhood. The family includes a boy named Nicolas. Nicolas has autism.

There is always a danger when including a character with autism of falling into stereotypes. However, no matter how you portray a character with autism, someone will see a stereotype.

Jennifer Norman does a great job of including a character with autism who seems real. As an autism dad, I can recognize Nicolas in my children. Both my children with autism are non verbal, my daughter arranges toys and our son avoids eye contact.

However, the best part of the book is the explanation of autism by Kyle’s mom. She gives the basic definition of autism (in kid-friendly language) but makes sure to emphasize the diversity within autism. Perhaps the most important thing for autism parents is that people understand that autism is a spectrum. Jennifer Norman makes it very clear, “no two people with autism are alike.”

I won’t give away the ending of the book but as SuperCaptainBraveMan, Kyle connects with Nicolas. This leads to a very moving conclusion.

Jennifer Norman understands what it is like to be a special needs parent. In real life Jennifer really is the mom of Kyle. She is able to promote awareness in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

This book is a valuable resource for helping children to understand autism. I wish we had this book when our three children without autism were trying to figure out why their brother and sister were different.

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Be Careful With the Advice You Give Autism Parents

It is common for parents to share their wisdom with each other. Experience provides little tips that we can share with others. This is completely natural and a good thing.

But be careful with the advice that you give to parents of children with autism.

I recently was talking to an autism mom whose child had a cold. Other parents were offering home remedies and other suggestions for treating the cold.

The intention is good but non-autism parents need to know one thing. Everything is more difficult with autism.

It is not as simple as concocting some natural cocktail and expecting the kid to drink it. Although our children with autism are now better at taking medication than our non-autistic children, it wasn’t always that way. There could be a major meltdown just for trying to sneak some remedy into something they normally liked. Once Amanda crushed some pills and snuck them into some pudding. Somehow he knew and he ran around the house with his hands waving, yelling, “PILLS! PILLS! PILLS!”

I’m not saying that you can’t share advice or tips with autism parents. I am saying that you shouldn’t posture your advice as a “simple solution.” What may be simple for your child may be impossible for a child with autism.

 

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Bitter-Sweet Sixteen

Our son Logan turned sixteen just the other day. On his birthday, we gathered the family together and went to a used car lot. We looked around, found a car at a reasonable price and purchased it that day. I’m sure many families have done something similar on their child’s sixteenth birthday.

Except the car was not for Logan. Not only will Logan not own a car, it is very unlikely that he will ever get his driver’s license.

Logan has autism and is on the severe end of the spectrum. Not only could we not go car shopping with Logan, we didn’t even see him on his birthday. He lives in a group home with his sister (who also has autism) and is over an hour away. Sickness among our other children did not allow us to visit him.

The earliest years of Logan’s diagnosis were not too bad as the difference between him and his peers was not wide. But with each year, the differences became much greater. By the time Logan was fourteen years old, his behaviours were enough that he went into a group home.

After almost a decade and a half of autism, we have generally come to terms with this part of our life. However, there are certain milestones such as this birthday and that stir up our emotions.

Friends on Facebook who had children around the same time as we did have been post pictures of their children learning to drive. While I’m happy for them, it is a reminder that autism has changed the way life looks for us. Autism can mean a real loss of hopes and dreams and there needs to be room for grieving.

Having said that, autism does not rob us of joy. We have a great relationship with Logan and we are very proud of him. We have just had to readjust how we define “normal.”

Normal now means that we enjoy our regular visits with our son. He comes running into our home with a big smile and anticipation of taking over control of our television remote. He raids our supply of apples and bananas, consuming amounts that are hard to believe.

We can celebrate our relationship with our son but we still need the freedom to feel the pain in these milestone moments.

Autism Dad

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Good News: Thankful For Autism Awareness

Stephen and Amanda Bedard

Wearing blue for autism awareness.

About fourteen years ago, when our son Logan was diagnosed with autism, I was pretty ignorant about autism. I only knew what I saw in Rainman and St. Elsewhere. Many of our friends and family were equally unaware. Although we have been forced to become aware because of Logan and Abby’s autism, I have noticed a general increase in awareness.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and my Good News is that people are become more aware and there is an increase in the welcoming and embracing of people with autism.

As a dad of two children with autism, I appreciate the change that has taken place. There is much more that needs to be done, but there has been a start. I’m also thankful that we are part of a church that is autism-friendly. We have a young man at Queen Street Baptist Church who has autism and who is an important part of our church family. I’m thankful as well that a number of churches have used the bulletin insert that I put together for autism awareness (any time in April would be appropriate if you wanted to use it).

I encourage you take time to learn about autism and even more importantly to get to know some one with autism. Autism awareness is Good News.

Stephen Bedard

This is what autism looks like.

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My Six Favourite Autism Memories

Our two oldest children have autism and our experience with them has shaped our entire family. Although there have been some hard days, we have also had some great times as well. I may share the difficult moments in another post but today I will share the six best autism moments. For some context, both Logan and Abby are on the severe end of the spectrum, are nonverbal and currently live in a group home.

  1. We were having a very serious meeting with a room full of professionals discussing Abby’s future treatment. In the middle of the meeting Abby let a big fart go and when everyone looked at her, she said, “No poop.” The entire room, including Abby, had a big laugh.
  2. I had told my wife that I can handle our children being nonverbal but the one thought that was really hard was that I would never hear them tell me that they loved me. That year we went to a Christmas Eve service and when we got home, I was getting Logan ready for bed. I told him I loved him and he responded by telling me he loved me. Best Christmas present ever.
  3. Abby seems to function at a fairly low intellectual level, although with her communication issues it is very difficult to test. Last year I was sitting on the couch with Abby and she grabbed my hands. She started putting my fingers in different positions and was making sounds. What she was doing was teaching me sign language. We didn’t even know she knew sign language! Amanda searched on her phone during my lesson and Abby was teaching sign language quite accurately.
  4. One night Logan was still awake by around 9:30 pm (he hums when he is awake). His light was on and he was going through his books. I unscrewed the light bulb from the ceiling and then heard, “Dad, turn the light back on.” I screwed it back in, thinking it was my younger son, who doesn’t have autism and who shared a bedroom with Logan. But he was fast asleep. I unscrewed the bulb again and once more heard, “Dad, turn the light back on.” I went back to our bedroom with my mouth wide open to tell Amanda that our son was talking. Logan is still considered nonverbal but we know he is able to talk if he feels motivated.
  5. A number of years ago, I was joining the army reserves and was just about to start basic training. I was pretty stressed out about the whole thing. On my way from home to the base, I stopped by the group home where Abby was living. I took her out for lunch for some daddy-daughter time. Abby is very much a daddy’s girl (Logan is a momma’s boy) and we had a wonderful time. We walked for a bit with her arms wrapped around mine. That quality time helped me to be less anxious about my training.
  6. During our time attending Queensway Baptist Church, we were bringing Logan with us to church. He is known to make noise, mostly humming. But one morning, in the middle of the service, Logan said in a loud voice (to us anyway), “Just kill me now!” He wasn’t upset with the service but was scripting a line from a movie. We still laugh at the time. How many people have wan’t to say the same thing in church?

Autism Dad

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Why Should the Church Care About Autism Awareness?

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism Awareness Month. But why should the church care about autism awareness? Shouldn’t we just leave autism awareness to secular social programs? I would like to suggest that the church needs to be interested in autism awareness from both a biblical and practical perspective.
Autism Awareness

Biblical Perspective

Obviously the Bible does not mention autism by name. The term “autism” was first used in 1911 and then it was referring more to schizophrenia. It was in the 1940s that “autism” was first used to describe what we consider to be the disorder today.

While the Bible does not speak of autism specifically, it does talk about disabilities. Leviticus 19:14 says, “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.” This is a warning not to create additional challenges for people with disabilities. Tolerating ignorance is a way of putting a stumbling block in the way of people with disabilities.

While there are many other passages that deal with disabilities, there is a wider principle that is very applicable. Throughout the Old Testament, there are commands to care for the “widows and orphans.” This is understood to not be just about those who literally fit in those specific categories but as short hand for all who are marginalized and are in need. This would include those with disabilities.

In the New Testament, we find the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In this parable, judgment is based on the treatment of the marginalized, including the sick, imprisoned, poor and naked. Not only that, Jesus identifies with “one of the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). It is not much of a stretch to include people with disabilities in this category.

Practical Perspective

Assuming that there is a biblical basis for caring for those with disabilities, including spreading autism awareness, why should the church act on this? Being biblical should be enough but there are some practical benefits.

The CDC has recently estimated that 1 in 68 children are born with some form of autism. This means that that there should be someone in most churches with autism. Even if there is no one with autism, there is likely multiple people in even the smallest congregations who have family or friends affected by autism.

Taking two minutes in one service during the month of April to mention autism and to pray for families can have a significant impact. Autism families often feel isolated and even the smallest effort by a church can be an encouragement. Demonstrating compassion in this one area may make more of a difference that you can imagine.

I have updated my autism awareness bulletin insert and you can download it here.

You can find my autism blog posts here and my autism podcast here.

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Marriage and Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger's SyndromeWhat do you think of when you think of autism? Nonverbal children rocking back and forth, perhaps banging their head? Autism includes that but also is so much more. What if I told you that autism includes that engineer, lawyer or stock broker who is married with children?

There once was a diagnosis called Asperger’s Syndrome. It basically was what was known as autism but without the communication deficiencies. That is an over-simplification but it gives you the basic idea. Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis but is now included under the label of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

People with high functioning autism can be successful in many endeavours, including complex careers. But one of the challenges can be a marriage with a person without autism. Marriage is difficult enough between two people neurologically similar, autism makes things much more complicated.

I recently read the book, Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Asperger’s Syndrome by Eva A. Mendes. I really appreciated this book. One of the things I liked was how she described the partner without autism. Often a person without autism is described as neuro-typical. But as Mendes observes, just because a person does not have autism, does not mean that they are neuro-typical. Instead, Mendes calls a person with autism, non-spectrum (NS).

The majority of relationships between ASD and NS include a male with ASD and a NS female, but there are exceptions. Mendes includes examples from a variety of different relationships, including common law and same-sex relationships. What remains consistent is that the ASD and NS partners are speaking a different language.

Mendes tackles some of the most important issues in neuro-diverse relationships such as emotional intelligence, communication, sex and parenting. Each topic is illustrated by case studies from Mendes’s practice and then is taken deeper with her teaching.

A neuro-diverse relationship can be a challenge for both partners but there is hope. There are ways to strengthen the skills that do not come naturally. It requires hard work by both partners. Basically, just like any other marriage.

If you are in or know someone in a marriage where one person has ASD and the other is NS, I highly recommend this book.


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My Problem With the R-Word

I was recently watching the Netflix series, Luke Cage. Throughout the series, I was bothered by the generous use of the N-word, even by the residents of Harlem. I have learned to have an uncomfortable reaction when hearing that word. What about when we use the R-word?

What is the R-word? It is “retarded” or “retard.” You may or may not know that there is a movement to make the R-word as unacceptable as the N-word.

I recently posted something about this on Facebook and was surprised to receive some pushback on it. Numerous people stood up for the continued use of retarded in every day speech. I don’t believe that any of these people took this stand out of hostility toward people who are diagnosed as mentally retarded.

Before going any further, I need to put my cards on the table. I have two children with autism, who are also diagnosed as having a global delay (another word for mental retardation). I’m not an impartial participant in this discussion.

One of the criticisms I receive is that opposing the R-word is another example of political correctness. I need to say that I have no interest in being political correct. I am a pro-life evangelical Christian (who happens also to be a white male). That makes me extremely politically incorrect. I know some people who would see those labels and instantly understand me to be a bad person.

Others point out that at times in the past and in some places today, retardation is still used as a medical description of a developmental delay. Such criticisms are completely missing the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not arguing for a nicer medical term for a specific diagnosis.

I am speaking specifically of how people use retarded as pejorative label to describe a person without an intellectual disability. My problem is when a person looks at another (neuro-typical) person who has done something really stupid and calls them retarded.

What I hear, as a parent of two special needs children, is that the person is so terrible that they are approaching where my children are at.

It is not just about the word retarded. I think it would be just as inappropriate to try and insult a person by accusing them of having autism or Down Syndrome.

I’m not trying to control what people do or say. I believe in freedom of speech, even when it is offensive. But consider the impact of your words. You may see “retarded” as a harmless insult, but how does a parent whose hope’s and dreams were dashed by a diagnosis of mental retardation hear that?

You might respond by say that is just words. Well I could respond that if someone steals your possessions that it is just stuff and you shouldn’t be bothered. Should that make stealing permissible, since it is just stuff? The truth is that people with disabilities and their families face challenges you cannot imagine. What is to you “just words” could be devastating to someone who is struggling with a disability.

It is not about being politically correct. It is about treating people with respect even if you don’t understand what they are going through.

Stephen Bedard

My “retarded” children

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Tips to Becoming an Autism-Friendly Church

The CDC has reported that 1 in 68 children are born with autism. Your church needs decide if you want to include or exclude people with autism. Most churches take the steps to be accessible for physical disabilities with elevators and wheelchair ramps. What about those with disabilities such as autism?

Here are some practical tips on how your church can be more autism-friendly. Some of these tips are also helpful for those with mental illness.

  • How to Make Your Church Autism-FriendlyDo not over stimulate. Some churches like to replicate the concert experience in their worship, including bright and flashing lights. You don’t have to have autism to be overwhelmed with that. Consider how a person with sensory issues would react during worship.
  • Consider an order of service. This does not need include every detail, but people with autism will appreciate knowing what happens and when.
  • Don’t reinvent yourself every week. This does not mean there can be no flexibility. But having the same general order makes things much easier.
  • Don’t use insider language. This is helpful even for people without autism. Insider language includes phrases that long-time members understand but new people don’t. This can feel exclusive for people with autism.
  • Don’t force conversation. Be friendly, greet the person and even offer a handshake. But if the person seems withdrawn, don’t force yourself on them.
  • Educate yourself. Take the time to learn about autism. Provide teaching for your leaders. Start this even before you have a family with autism at your church.
  • Provide information on the website. Have a page on your church website that describes what to expect at a worship service. Don’t describe the church that you want to be but the church you really are.

It takes work to be an autism-friendly church, but it is worth it. For more information, check out my book, How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly.


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5 Things You Should Know About My Children With Autism

Autism awareness has come a long way but there is still far to go. I have two children with autism. They are both on the severe end and are considered nonverbal. If you met them, you would probably have certain first impressions. But let me tell you what they are really like, from my perspective as their father.

  1. They are more likely to do what we ask them. All five of our children are awesome, but I must confess that if we ask our children to do something, our children with autism are more likely to do it than our neurotypical children.
  2. They are completely honest. They don’t know how to deceive or how to create a mask. They are who they are.
  3. They are loving. There is a stereotype of people with autism as being unemotional. Our children are very affectionate and they demonstrate their love to us.
  4. They communicate what they want. Although spoken language is not their primary means, they can communicate what they want. They are very creative in how they accomplish it.
  5. They are quite smart. They may never accomplish some of the things that their neurotypical peers may, but they are not unintelligent. When it comes to the things that they are interested in, they can put their minds to it. We have tried to outsmart them many times and have failed.

I hope that gives you a sense of what people with autism can be like.

Stephen Bedard

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Hans Reinders on Disability and Meaning

If the church is going to minister effectively in the area of disabilities, it is important to develop a theology of disability. This video is by Hans Reinders on ‘Disability and Meaning’ from the 2012 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability Conference.


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Five Reasons Why King Solomon Was on the Autism Spectrum

Ron SandisonThis article is a guest post by Ron Sandison. You can find his bio at the conclusion of this post.

As a theologian and prodigy with autism I have felt a close connection to King Solomon and a deep appreciation for his writings of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. 2017, marked my 14th year as a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. This past May, I presented a breakout secession on Autism & Ministry at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability conference in Holland, MI. Asperger’s causes me to hunger for information and knowledge.

When God offered Solomon anything his heart desired—he asked for wisdom. Solomon prayed, “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours” (1 Kings 3:15)? God was pleased by his request.

SolomonIn biblical archaeology and research information on historical events and figures are discovered by both external and internal evidence. External—artifacts, excavations, and documents confirming the accuracy of the biblical account. Internal—information gleamed from examining the Biblical narrative by applying a sound hermeneutical approach. Professor of hermeneutic at Oral Roberts University, Dr. Donald Vance, taught, “The Bible contains no unnecessary details.”

The five reasons I share follow the internal evidence from the biblical text. King Solomon reigned from 970-931 B.C. and the term Asperger’s was introduced in 1981 by Dr. Lorna Wing’s academic paper—due to this time-gap—internal is the only pliable method.

1. Solomon’s parents age difference.

Bathsheba was the granddaughter of one of David’s chief counsellors, Ahithophel. Her father, Eliam, was one of David’s thirty mighty men (2 Samuel 11:3 & 23:34). From this historical detail we discovery that Bathsheba was a lot younger than King David by roughly 28 years. The biblical text also indicates that David was in his fifties and Bathsheba was in her early twenties when King Solomon was conceived.

Research studies have shown that men over age 40 are twice as likely as men age 25-29 to have a child with autism, but only if the mother is under age 25. My dad, Chuck, was 40 years old and mom, Janet, was 24 when I was born. Like Solomon, my parent’s age difference was a contributing factors to autism.

2. Solomon’s literal/concrete thinking.

Those with Asperger’s and high functioning autism tend to be literal/concrete thinkers. Solomon’s thinking was unique by him being both a literal and lateral thinker. Maltese physician Edward de Bono in 1967 originated the term lateral thinking as solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

Solomon’s literal/lateral thinking can be seen in the narrative account of “Two women claim to the same baby” (1Kings 3:16-28). In this narrative two prostitutes who live together stand before Solomon to settle a legal dispute concerning who is the mother of the living child. The first to present her case claims her housemate during the night switch her living baby with the other woman’s dead baby. The second woman states, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

Solomon brilliantly resolves the case by holding a sword before the baby and declaring, “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” The mother of the child alive filled with compassion cries out, “Please my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” After the woman’s maternal response, Solomon gave his ruling: she is the mother of the living child. Solomon used Aspie’s logic to solve the case.

3. Solomon’s amazing wisdom and encyclopedia knowledge.

Children with Asperger’s often are referred to as little professors. Solomon is known as chacham mi’kol ha’adam, “wisest of all the men.” The Bible relates that kings from all over the world came to hear Solomon’s wisdom, which included not only Torah wisdom, but also wisdom in secular knowledge and science.

1 King 4:31-34 says, “His fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. He could discuss trees, from the cedar in the Lebanon to the hyssop growing out of the wall; he could discuss wild animals, poultry, reptiles and fish. People from all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, including kings from all over the earth who had heard of his wisdom.”

I am sure Solomon like most people with Asperger’s could chat non-stop concerning his unusual special interests in cedars of Lebanon and all the exotic animals creeping around his palace and the Temple in Jerusalem.

4. Solomon’s perfectionism—all or nothing thinking.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes his great accomplishments, pleasures, wealth, and wisdom. Yet as a perfectionistic—all or nothing thinker—he realizes his great success is vanity, Solomon exclaimed, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 1:14).

King Solomon excluded only one accomplishment from his list. Ironically, this is the achievement for which he is most known; the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was not meaningless because God called him to build it—the purpose of life is to fear and serve God (Eccl. 12:13).

5. Solomon’s common bond with those on the spectrum.

People with autism share a common bond; we on the spectrum can recognize a follow Aspie. Solomon’s writing can provide insight for developing special interests for employment and relationships. My mom believed that by having me interact with typical children my own age I would learn social skills and by developing my talents I could gain independence and accomplishes my dreams. My mom was inspired by Proverbs 22:29 written by Solomon, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings. He won’t serve before obscure men.”

In the 70s and 80s before the emphasis on inclusion in the classroom many children with autism and disabilities only learned skills to equip him or her to be employed as a janitor, grocery bagger, stock-boy, dishwasher, or pumping gas—serving before obscure men. My mom was determine that would not be me and decided to help me refine my disabilities into beautiful gifts.
As King Solomon said, “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success” (Eccl. 10:10). By following Solomon’s advice from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes my mom was able to develop my gifts and teach me social skills enabling me to serve before kings. Even 3,000 years after his death, Solomon’s wisdom still provides practical insight for living.

Ron SandisonRon Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
Ron has published articles in Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Autism File Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, Not Alone, the Mighty, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, and many more. He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website http://www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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Thoughts on The Accountant

AccountantI have been hoping to see The Accountant for some time and finally got to watch it today. I was not disappointed. It was one of the best movies that I have seen in a long time. It was entertaining as an action movie but I appreciated it on another level as well.

Ben Affleck plays a man who is gifted with numbers and who works as an accountant for criminals (among others) to “cook” their books. Technically, this makes him a criminal, but the story is much more complicated than that. He has a strict moral code and will stand up for what he believes to be right. This leads him into the role of a vigilante. His autism, along with making him a gifted accountant, allows him to be a talented marksman and fighter as well.

My interest in this, beyond enjoying action movies, is the topic of autism. The first question to ask is whether this movie portrays a stereotype of autism. Yes it does. But we must remember that movies live on stereotypes. Preachers, police, musicians or any other role, are always based on stereotypes when it comes to movies. That’s the nature of the beast.

I will mention two things, just in case this is some people’s first introduction to autism. Most people with autism do not have savant abilities. They are quite rare. Also, not every person with autism is as unemotional as Affleck’s character. Some are but many, such as my children, are very emotional.

Was this a positive portrayal of autism? He is a criminal and kills quite a few people. But I don’t think that this is the fear mongering that we often see in media portrayals of people with mental health issues. He comes across as dangerous only to those who are threatening the innocent. If he did not have autism and acted the same way, he would not seen as a negative character.

There are definitely some ethical issues in this movie. Affleck’s character helps some very bad people and makes a good profit doing it. He kills people and does not face any consequences.

Still, there were some good scenes that dealt with autism and I thought the conclusion of the movie was quite powerful. As an autism parent, I was happy to see a generally good portrayal of autism. I highly recommend The Accountant.

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The New Edition of How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly!

How to Make Your Church Autism-FriendlyI believe that of all the books that I have written, one of the most important is How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly. It covers a topic that is very close to my heart.

There was a good response to the first edition but I felt that there was more that I could share. So I not only reformatted the previous material, I added new content to the second edition. The extra material includes a chapter on how to minister to those with “mild” autism, as well as an appendix that features my most popular posts on autism. The great thing is that even with all the extra content, I was able to provide the second edition in paperback for cheaper than the first edition.

If you are a pastor, church leader or even an autism parent looking to help your leadership, I believe that this is a helpful resource. Get How to Make your Church Autism-Friendly in Kindle or paperback. If you are having trouble finding the paperback on Amazon in your country, you can also purchase it here.

 

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Rebooting My Podcast

I have been making some major changes in my online activity. I am trying to streamline things so that I can be better at what I do. One of those changes was to merge all of my blogs into one. You can now find all of my blog content at this site. Another change has to do with my podcast.

PodcastI have been podcasting since May of 2011. It is something that I really enjoy doing. But as I’m already moving all of my online content to this site, it is a good time to “reboot” my podcast.

What does that mean?

I encourage you to listen to this introductory episode of the podcast for an explanation of the future of my podcast. Basically, what is going to happen is that I am starting all over. The new podcast includes two series. One is the History of Christianity podcast and the other the Autism Dad podcast. You can listen to only those series through those links or you can listen to everything here. The full feed will include those two series, as well as my sermons from Queen Street Baptist Church and other discipleship-related content. This will include some of the best of the old podcast that I will repurpose here and new content, including interviews with Christian leaders in a number of different fields.

I’m excited about the future of the podcast. Make sure to keep coming back to this site for new episodes, or subscribe through iTunes here.

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Introduction to the Autism Dad Podcast

Of all the roles I have, one of the most important is that of an autism dad. I have interviewed people about autism on my regular podcast but I have felt like there was a need to gather all my autism content into one podcast. The result is the autism dad podcast. You can listen to the first episode here, which outlines the goals for this podcast.

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Disability and the Gospel – Review

Disability and the GospelOne aspect of working through ideas about disabilities is to develop a theology of disability. The Bible has some important things to say about disabilities. But how do they fit together and what is the main message?

One of the best resources I have come across is Disability and the Gospel by Michael S. Beates. Beates comes at this topic not just as a theologian, but as a father of a daughter with a disability.

In the book, Beates works through both Old and New Testament teachings about disabilities. He also looks at ancient and modern thought on disabilities, both from a Christian and non-Christian perspective.

Beates provides a very helpful summary of where theology has interacted with disabilities. At times it has been less than helpful, but overall, there are good resources that help us to understand where disabilities fit in God’s kingdom.

If you are wrestling with a theological understanding of disabilities, I highly recommend Disability and the Gospel.

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Confessions of an Autism Mom

I am so thankful for my wife and the way she is able to put into words our experience as autism parents. Amanda recently wrote a post on her blog, describing exactly what I have been feeling lately.

Christmas time will always be a time of remembering for me. Our first child was due on New Years day but I had a miscarriage and it never came to be. I was quite pregnant with Logan by the time my due date for our first child came. We light a candle and whisper love to our Kennedy as each new year begins. I had hopes and dreams for this child I was carrying, this promise and gift from God. Promises and gifts come in all shapes and sizes, Logan is no different.

You can read the full post here. I encourage you to check some of her other posts. She is a much better blogger than I am.

 

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On Being an Accessible Church

In the province that I live in, it is the law that all public buildings, including churches, are accessible to those with disabilities. We shouldn’t need the law to make us accessible. What people sometimes forget, is that being accessible means more than just working with physical disabilities.

It is likely that if someone in a wheelchair wanted to attend your church, you would make sure that there was an elevator or a ramp. But what about those with developmental disabilities or mental illness, are you accessible for them?

One way to make your services accessible to those who experience anxiety is to provide audio or video versions of the messages on your church website. Obviously we want people to attend in in person. But there are times that anxiety levels are too high to sit in pews and be surrounded by people. By having sermons on the website, people can still benefit from the teaching.

What other ways can you make your church accessible for people of all needs?




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Bullying Also Happens in the Church

Bullying

People with disabilities are too often the target for bullying. Those who have communication or cognitive challenges are particularly vulnerable as they may have difficulty reporting the bullying.

Ideally, the church would be a safe place away from bullying for people of all abilities. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. People feel insecure and insignificant and so they attempt to compensate by treating others badly. It shouldn’t happen but it does.

Do you have people with disabilities in your church?

Be active and not reactive. Instead of waiting to respond to a bullying incident, begin the conversations now. Do teaching with your staff and volunteers. Have the discussion with your youth group and Sunday school. Work hard to make churches a safe place for all people.




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Nothing is Happening Tomorrow

Have you ever had someone start to say something, in the sense of revealing information, and you would do anything to stop them? We have many times.

When our two children with autism lived with us, both had sleep issues but in different ways. Abby was just messed up when it came to sleep. It was not unusual for her to get up between 1 and 3 am.

Logan generally slept well, getting up around 7 am. Unless someone said something.

If in the evening, we or someone else, mentioned that something would happen the next day, there would be a problem.

“Logan, Grandma is coming for a visit tomorrow.”

“Logan, tomorrow is a day off school.”

“Logan, Abby’s birthday is tomorrow.”

If anything was going to happen the next day, Logan would get up extremely early. Sometimes midnight and sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all.

We came up with the policy that NOTHING was going to happen tomorrow, no matter what was really going to happen. It was easier to train ourselves than others. It is natural to share the excitement of what was coming. Sometimes the event was so minor, that it did not seem to be a big deal. But we had to cut off people and re-educate people about what was allowed to be said.

Anticipation was something too disruptive to Logan’s sleep.

And that is a glimpse of autism.

Autism Dad

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Infographic

Autism Spectrum Disorder

by J.L.

From Visually.


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Top 10 Facts: J.R.R. Tolkien


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A Theology of Autism

This is a lecture by theologian John Swinton that was given at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in 2011.



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The Church and People With Mild Autism

Autism

I think that there has been some improvement in the church’s willingness to embrace and minister to people with autism and their families. But often the people with autism that the church has in mind are those on the severe end of the spectrum.

What about those with mild autism?

These are the people who have what was once called Asperger’s Syndrome but is now just mild autism. You may not even know that they have autism. These are people that have intense interests that they want to talk about all the time. These are the people who struggle to know what is socially appropriate. You likely think of them as quirky rather than autistic.

There is a certain amount of compassion for those who are on the severe end of the autism spectrum. But those who are more mild do not necessarily benefit from this compassion. They may be easily left out and isolated.

Remember that autism does not always look the same. Have the same love for that teenager who always talks about airplanes as you do for the child who is nonverbal.

There is now a section on mild autism in the second edition of my book, How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly.

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An Autistic Evening

One of the purposes of this blog is to increase awareness about autism. As much as I love to share the positive experiences, the reality is that there are some difficult times. I have no desire to use this as a platform for complaining, but I believe sharing the reality of autism will help people to understand what parents go through.

We just made a major change in how our visits with Logan and Abby go (they live in a group home 1.5 hours away). Previously, the group home brought them to our house Friday nights and I brought them back Saturday mornings.

Starting today, I went early in the morning to get them, with the plan that the group home would come and pick them up in the evening. That is two major changes for Logan and Abby. They are no longer staying overnight and I am now bringing them here instead of taking them back.

They actually did very well. Our visit was fine, with lots of laughter. Even when the van pulled up to get them, Logan and Abby got there stuff together and went out to the vehicle. Everything was going smoothly.

Then the van door got stuck.

The worker tried to compensate by putting Logan in a different seat than normal. That was one too many changes for Abby (she was already stretched pretty bad). Abby got upset, which got Logan upset, which made Abby more upset and on it went. There was a lot of crying and shouting. They were both in meltdown mode and they were feeding off each other.

There was no getting them both in the van. The only thing we could do was for me to take Abby into the backyard and jump with her on the trampoline, while Amanda got Logan into the van. They then took off, while I got Abby into our car with the promise of a stop at Tim Horton’s. Then off we went for my second round-trip today.

This is what autism is like. Changes in routine can easily lead to meltdowns. People with autism can feed off each other when upset.

Amanda and I were able to work as a team to deal with the situation. Not every parent is able to do this.

Again, none of this is meant as complaining. This is simply the life of autism parents. But of you want to support families such as ours, you need to know what life looks like.

 

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How to Talk to a Person With Autism Who Seems to Ignore You

conversation

If you tried to talk to our son, you might find that he would avoid eye contact and probably would hum while you spoke. I suspect that our son is not unique in this. In fact, there is a young man in our church who is very similar. What should you do if you find yourself in such a situation? Here are some pointers.

  • Don’t force them to give you eye contact. Parents might do this on occasion, but there usually is a reason why they are avoiding eye contact. You might find that if you don’t push the issue that they might give you more eye contact as they get to know you more.
  • Don’t raise your voice. Unless there are additional hearing deficits, yelling will make them less likely to listen to you.
  • Just because they seem to be ignoring you, don’t assume that they are not listening.
  • Talk to the person with autism and not the person with them. Address them directly.
  • If they don’t answer a question, don’t keep repeating it.
  • Look at them directly and smile.
  • Don’t speak to them like they are a little child (unless they are a little child). Many people with autism who are nonverbal have normal or above normal intelligence. Do not judge their intellect by their communication difficulties.
  • Don’t give up, no matter how much they may seem to ignore you. Greet them with the same enthusiasm every time you see them. It really matters.


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What is an Autism Service Dog?

Many people have heard of guide dogs for the blind, but what is an autism service dog? The principle is the same, in that the dog wears a jacket that allows the person to go into public places.

One of the main purposes of an autism service dog is safety. Many children with autism are runners and safety is a big issue. The child with autism is tethered to the dog and so can only go as far as the tether will let them.

Service Dog
Logan and Halo

We had a service dog for our son and it was incredible the freedom that he gave us. I could go for walks with Logan and go to the grocery store with him, and not fear that he was going to take off.

For many children with autism, the dog also provides a comfort factor. I used to take Logan and Halo (our dog) to a men’s breakfast at our church, and even if they were not tethered, Logan would be much calmer if Halo was there.

How can a church help?

One way is to make sure that service dogs are welcome in your building. Public places are required to allow access but that doesn’t stop some places from trying to stop it. We were once asked to leave a store even though we were well within our rights. It is a good idea to have this conversation with your leadership before a family with a service dog shows up.

Another way that churches can help is to find out if there is a local family seeking to get a dog. The dogs are expensive (at the time we got our dog over a decade ago, it was $12,000) and families need to raise their own funds. It would be amazing if churches helped do fund raising for these families.

The final thing is simply to be aware of their purpose and role.

There are many organizations that provide service dogs, but the organization we worked with was National Service Dogs. You can find out more about service dogs at their website.

Autism Dad

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Did Jesus Have a Disability?

Jesus

People with disabilities have not always felt valuable. This includes the context of the church. Are disabilities just a reminder of all that is not right in the world?

But what if Jesus had a disability? I’m not suggesting that he had autism or was lame. But consider this passage:

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Many people see the cross as the greatest sacrifice that Jesus experienced. But what about the incarnation? God the Son became a human being!

One of the first heresies was not doubts about Jesus’ divinity but about his humanity. Some could not believe that Jesus really became human and that he must have only seemed to be human.

But the incarnation teaches that Jesus really became human. He emptied himself. If taking on humanity with all of its limitations is not a disability, what is?

People with disabilities should not feel out of place in churches. They should feel right at home because the foundation of Christianity is about the worship of the disabled God.

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5 Ways to Support a Family With Autism

Perhaps you know a family that has someone with autism and you desire to support them. But what can you do? I would like to offer five things that you could do to help this family.

1. Treat the family with love and respect rather than pity.
2. Provide some respite by watching their child so that the rest of the family can do something they have been hoping to do.
3. Take the siblings of the child with autism out for a fun activity.
4. Talk to the family member with autism and treat them with respect, even if they seem to ignore you or are not listening.
5. Pray for the entire family. You can tell the family you are praying if you wish. But do not tell them you are praying for healing from autism and that they should expect “normal” any time soon.

Bonus Item: Educate yourself on autism so that you can speak to them intentionally. It might not seem like a big thing, but it is.

Autism Dad

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The Biggest Need For Families With Disabilities

I may be too presumptuous in making a judgment about all families with disabilities, but I’m at least confident that this applies to a good majority of families. I believe that the biggest need for families with disabilities is respite.

What is respite? Respite is when someone watches your child so that the family can either get some rest or do some activity that they wouldn’t normally do. It could be for a couple of hours or even for a weekend. This is not babysitting, as caring for a person with a disability is more complex.

The biggest need is not finding money to pay someone, the biggest need is finding someone to do the respite. There were many times that we had funding to pay for respite but had no one who would do respite for us. I have recently heard of other families going through the same thing.

Why is it so difficult? I assume that many people are intimidated by the idea of caring for a person with a disability. While it isn’t for everyone, it is also not as overwhelming as some assume.

If you are a church that is looking for a way to minister to families with disabilities, offering respite would be a great place to start. There is a huge need and actually doing it is not that difficult. Consider how your church might be able to make a difference in this area.

Autism Dad

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