Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ten Autism-Friendly Summer Activities That Won’t Break the Bank

            Summer can be a very challenging time for autism families. While you and your neuro-typical kids want to get out and enjoy the sunshine, your special-needs child is more likely to cling to the quiet and safety of home.
            Many organizations and facilities have adopted autism-friendly events that enable children on the spectrum to enjoy social activities without all the surplus environmental factors (i.e.: noise, lights) that often assault their sensory issues. Use a search engine to find "autism-friendly" places your child might enjoy.
            The Autism Village App allows parents and providers to discover, add, rate, and review places which are autism-friendly in your area. You can also check for a list of autism-friendly events (listed by city, state, date and time).
            Here are ten of my favorite autism-friendly summer activities:

1.    Pool
Nothing says summer like splashing in the pool. Most indoor and outdoor pools have gradual water levels, permitting children to venture in as far as they feel comfortable.
You can contact your local pool to check for peak times in order to avoid those hours. You might even ask if the pool would consider autism-friendly times when individuals on the spectrum can swim with less crowds, reduced noise levels and dimmed lighting.

2.    Parks
Local parks can provide hours of fun for young children. Be sure to choose non-peak hours and avoid the noonday heat. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a bucket and shovel, a few toy cars or tractors, or toy dishes for sandbox play.
Many national parks and theme parks provide autism-friendly accommodations and lodgings but often have a substantial price-tag attached. Information on these parks is fairly easy to find through simple internet search.

3.    Library
Books provide a world-full of discoveries and adventures without leaving the comfort of home. Check with your local library for summer reading programs and activities. Avoid peak hours and ask if they would consider creating autism-friendly times and activities if not already established.

4.    Beach
Another great venue for children that won’t cost a lot. Most beaches are crowded in the summer, so try to aim for early-morning or evenings. Be sure to bring life jackets, sunscreen, toys for sand-play if your child is nervous about getting in the water, towels and drinks.

5.    Bowling
Discover the joys of throwing and knocking down with a night at the bowling alley. Ask for bumpers to avoid frustration with gutter balls and check for peak hours so you can schedule an outing around those times. If they don’t already have them established, ask the bowling alley they would be willing to provide autism-friendly times.

6.    Movies
Nothing says fun like watching a movie with a bucket-full of popcorn. Some AMC Theaters have sensory-friendly showing times on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month (times are listed on the website). During these times they lower the lights and the sound for kids on the spectrum.

7.    Zoo
My sons still love to go to the zoo, even though they’re teenagers. Be sure to check with your local zoo for peak hours or ask if they have sensory-friendly times. If not, ask if they would consider introducing such a program. If not, try to go as soon as the zoo opens or later in the afternoon, near closing time. Keep the visits short as children can quickly become tired or overstimulated.

8.    Chuck-E-Cheese
Most children enjoy the arcade games and the food. In order to accommodate families with children on the autism spectrum, Chuck-E-Cheese has introduced sensory-sensitive Sundays (check listings online).

9.    Science Centers
Most cities have centers where children can explore the wonders of science. Entry costs are usually pretty affordable and they offer hours of fun. Check with your local science center about autism-friendly hours or ask about peak hours so you can schedule your visit during quieter times.

10. Home
There are so many fun activities you can explore right at home. Here are just a few suggestions:
·         Play with bubbles – I’m talking about the giant bubbles you can purchase or make right at home
·         Run through the sprinkler
·         Beat the heat with fun on a Slip n Slide
·         Make your own ice-cream
·         Create a scavenger hunt
·         Make a card-file with ideas for sensory-play, along with recipes. Pull one out when your children are bored (you can find ideas and recipes online)
·         Play with various-sized and textured balls to increase your child’s ability to throw, kick and catch.
·         Go camping - right in your own back yard
·         Play board games or card games
·         Have fun with paints

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter's Eve

            They were in mourning. Not just for the man they loved and followed, but for all they’d given up, all the hopes and dreams they’d fostered, all the aspirations and beliefs that had changed their lives. They didn't  just lose a person, they lost their purpose. They didn't just bury their friend, they buried their future. Nothing would be the same now that Jesus was dead. 
            Most of us can’t fathom the depths of sorrow the disciples and Jesus’ loved ones experienced when Jesus died on that cross. They failed to understand how bright their future would be, precisely because of his death. They didn’t grasp the gift of grace Christ had so painfully purchased for their salvation. They had no inkling of what the morrow would bring.
            It can be heartbreaking when our own dreams are crushed and our hopes lay in tatters. We may even reach a point when we believe everything is lost. Why go on when the future appears so bleak? What motivation remains to lure us out of bed each morning? Why bother at all when the sky is so dark and tomorrow seems so dismal?
            What the disciples didn’t know, what Mary and the other women failed to understand, was that tomorrow their world, their very lives, would be altered beyond belief. Death would be conquered, eternal life would be theirs and what appeared to be the end would actually be a glorious beginning.
            Are you stuck on Easter’s Eve? Trapped between the grave and the resurrection? Do you feel like this darkness will last forever and all hope is gone? The story is not over yet. God is at work. Hold on to the hope we have in Christ.
Easter morning is just one night away.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Love Like no Other

A Love Like No Other

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

            Greg Lucas understands unconditional love. His son, Jake, has been diagnosed with autism, OCD, cerebral palsy and sensory integration disorder. His grown son is unable to care for his own hygiene, so it falls to Greg and his wife to remove Jake’s diaper, wipe his behind, then bathe him. Because of his sensory issues, Jake does not like to be cleaned. Many times, Greg has been kicked, hit, bitten, and clawed. Yet through it all, Greg holds his son tightly and whispers, “I love you. I love you. I love you – no matter what.”[i]
            Greg goes on to say, “How do you care for someone who resists your love with violence, who opposes your very presence even when that presence is necessary for his good? How do you keep on loving when the person you are devoted to seems incapable of affection? The only way to make any sense of this kind of relationship is to experience it through the truly unconditional love of the Father.”[ii]
            Greg explains he also suffers from a life-affecting disability; it’s called sin. “It causes me to reject love and embrace fear. It plagues me with a slumber that makes me strangely satisfied to lie in my own filth and not be disturbed. It’s not that I like being dirty. I just hate being cleaned… In my son I see a picture of my own relationship with God. In Jake’s defiant refusal to be loved, cared for, and washed, I am reminded of the cross. There, the violence of divine love overpowered my rebellion and forced upon me a process of cleansing redemption that I did not want to undergo. In some ways, the process is still ongoing, and most days, I still resist. In my persistent disability I fight against the transformation being worked in me. But I face a power greater than my own and a love stronger than my rebellion. It is as if a bloody, beaten, crucified Savior wraps me in His arms, subdues me with His affection, and whispers in my ear, “I love you. I love you. I love you – no matter what.”[iii]
            Easter is all about God’s love, a love like no other. He loves us despite ourselves His love is unconditional and sacrificial. There is no greater love than this.

[i] Greg Lucas, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace (Hudson, OH: Cruciform Press, 2010), pg 22
[ii] Ibid, pg 22-23
[iii] Ibid, pg 23-24

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Faithful Obedience

You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days.
Joshua 6:3 (NLT)

            The walls were some of the strongest they’d ever laid eyes on. Tall, wide enough to incorporate houses, guarded by soldiers on duty day and night, and sealed with strong gates, Jericho’s walls were a veritable challenge. Surely the Israelites took one look at the daunting obstacle before them and wondered how they would ever conquer such a fortified city.
            On top of it, Joshua instructed the fighting men to march around the town once a day for six days, then walk around Jericho seven times on the seventh day. That’s a bit like asking a professional basketball player to be a chauffeur or expect a successful surgeon to man the phones in his own clinic. Joshua’s soldiers had been trained for hand to hand combat. Their hands must have been itching to yield their swords. Yet, instead of fighting, they were instructed to march around the city walls every day. Surely, they must have questioned the wisdom of God’s plan.
            Trudging around a wall for six days isn’t all that glamorous. It’s dusty, undignified for skilled warriors and quite humbling. But God did have a purpose for the plodding. He was teaching the Israelites the value of faithful obedience. Trust and obey; such a difficult task at times, especially when we’re down in the dirt and the grime.
            God asks the same of us. Caring for a special-needs child can often be a challenge to our sense of purpose and our pride; changing a grown child’s diapers, bathing them after they’ve soiled themselves, feeding them when they can’t feed themselves, or picking up spilled Cheerios day after day, leaves us wondering if this is all there is to this life. Surely, God didn’t put us on this earth solely for this? Doesn’t he have a greater purpose, a bigger plan for our lives?
            Yet God calls us to trust and obey. For some reason, He chose me, He chose you, to raise this special child and He’s entrusted to us the task of caring for them. Far from glamorous, our role is not necessarily to wield a sword but to trudge around those daunting walls day after day in faithful obedience until, one day, they crumble into mere pebbles at our feet.
            There is no greater love, no greater service, than to love even though our child may not be able to love in return. Our victories may not be witnessed by a throng of onlookers, but God sees every little act of loving service we perform in His name. Some of our greatest achievements may not be those seen by the eyes of men, but those seen only by our Heavenly Father. One day, we will behold our Savior face to face, and He will hand us a crown sparkling with the jewels of faithful obedience. He will look into our eyes and say for all of heaven to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday, March 1, 2018


People judge by outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)

               One of my favorite pastimes is walking our dogs through the woods on our property, here in Southwest Missouri. There is a section along our walk where small caves have formed. After a heavy rain, it's not unusual to spot geodes popping through the soil.
               Geodes begin as plain rocks with hollow cavities that, over time, form crystals such as opal, quartz, or agate. The geodes I've found are quite unattractive on the outside, with a dull, lumpy surface that resembles a floret of cauliflower. Yet when they are cut hopen, these geodes reveal beautiful crystals that sparkle like moonlight on a quiet lake. Such extraordinary beauty hidden within a simple rock!
             Thankfully, God doesn't judge us by our outward appearance. Instead, He looks at our hearts. God isn't looking for degrees, wealth, status, or power. He wants us just as we are, plain and simple. If He'd loved only those who are physically appealing, He wouldn't have reached out to the lepers. If He'd wanted wealth, He wouldn't have told the rich, young ruler to give his money to the poor. If He'd desired status, He wouldn't have walked among the outcast. If He'd sought power, He would have chosen political supporters, not fishermen.
            God does not qualify or quantify His love but loves each one of us fully and unconditionally. Even those of us with warts, tics, stims, handicaps, and birth defects. Instead of the body, God looks at the soul of every man and treasures those whose hearts and minds are devoted to Him.
            If God were to crack us open for all the world to see, I wonder what our hearts would reveal. As for me, I hope my heart would shine with God's love.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes

           Another school shooting. Another tragedy. Lives lost so senselessly.

          I'll admit, it's very hard for me to watch the news lately. So many unconscionable acts of violence because of hatred and bigotry. When it comes to my own family, I can't help but pray for their safety. Who wouldn't, in a world like ours?

          Even though I know that worrying can't change a thing, I still feel a certain amount of anxiety every time I drop them off at school. I realize that worrying about my kids is part of being a caring parent. Yet, for so long, I struggled with my emotions. After all, doesn't God urge us not to worry?

          As I studied the Scriptures, I gradually came to understand that worrisome thoughts are not a sin, for I am human, and the devil will continually try to trip me up by whispering, "What if...?" But it's what I do with those thoughts that matters. I can choose to ignore Satan's whispers, or allow them to take root in my mind. I can take them to the cross and leave them there, or I can keep them close and nurse them into a heavy, wearisome burden I was never intended to carry.

          Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be" (NIV). God has ordained the number of days each one of us will live, before we are even born. In other words, we are immortal until the day God has predestined for us to enter into eternity.

          Worrying about my family's safety won't add a single day to their earthly lives. No matter what I do or what I think, I cannot keep them here on earth one day longer than God has already ordained. So, rather than becoming a slave to my worries, I give those cares over to God -- even if I have to do so every time those negative thoughts flitter through my brain -- trusting Him with each one of those I love.

          After all, the safest place we can be is in God's care.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Our Advocate

I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate,
who will never leave you.
John 15:16 (NLT)

          One of the most important roles an autism or special-needs parent will have is that of advocate. We advocate for the physical, emotional, legal, educational, social, and financial assistance their diagnosis requires. While most special-needs individuals are assigned case workers and service providers to ensure they receive these essential services, the fact remains that parent are the ones who know their child's needs better than anyone else. Therefore, it is crucial for parents to be actively involved. An advocate can be the difference between thriving or perpetual struggle.
          In her book, Different Dream Parenting, author Jolene Philo says, "We advocate for our children in health care, governmental, and educational agencies on earth. We should advocate in the spiritual realm as well. Through prayer, we can advocate before God on behalf of our children." (1)
          Much like our children, we also need an advocate, someone who understands our limitations, our failures, and our daily struggles. So God sent His Spirit, knowing we often struggle to verbalize our requests, whether for ourselves or on behalf of our children. Furthermore, He knows we don't always recognize what we truly need.
          I find it incredibly heartening that God has given us an advocate who will never leave us. Because He knows each one of us better than anyone else does, we can rest assured He is on our side, pleading our case before the Father. He knows our longings, our weaknesses, our concerns, our limitations, and He brings them all before the throne of grace.
          If it matters to us, it matters to Him.

[1] Jolene Philo, Different Dream Parenting (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2016), Pg. 52.