Wednesday, June 14, 2017

AUTISM ETIQUETTE


5 practical suggestions for interactions with individuals on the autism spectrum
and their families.

            Many people feel awkward or uncomfortable around individuals with autism. While some just ignore them all together, others long to relate to this special group of individuals but don’t know what to say or how to act. I would like to offer a few suggestions that might help understand the dos and don’ts of autism.
            1/ Don’t label them. You wouldn’t refer to other individuals as “the diabetic man” or “the bi-polar woman” so refrain from saying “her autistic son” or “his autistic daughter.” If you are addressing their disability for some reason, say “her son with autism,” or “she also has a child with autism.” I know, sounds a bit picky, doesn’t it? But many parents don’t like the terminology “autistic son” or “autistic daughter” because it infers that their child’s identity is wrapped up in their diagnosis.
            2/ Don’t ignore them. So many individuals with autism or other disabilities feel invisible. Whether intentional or not, they are often ignored. Treat individuals with autism just like you would treat a neuro-typical person. Many individuals with autism don’t like to be touched, so you might refrain from shaking hands the first time you meet (If you know them and know they are comfortable touching another person, then by all means, proffer your hand – they might offer theirs in response but if they don’t, that’s okay too. Next time you’ll know). Ask questions to which they can nod, shake their head or answer “yes” or “no.” If they respond with more than a single word and you can’t understand them, listen to what they have to say anyway. Talk to them at an age-appropriate level. Never talk down, just because you aren’t sure whether or not they understand. We all want acceptance and long to feel included, and individuals with autism are no exception.
3/ Look at them. Most individuals on the autism spectrum don’t make eye contact because it makes them uncomfortable (mostly because facial expressions confuse them). But that doesn’t mean you can’t look at them while having a conversation. This simple act shows you are interested in what they have to say.
4/ Don’t judge. Unless you’ve raised a child on the autism spectrum, you have no idea what a challenge it can be, at home but especially in public. Stores, churches and any public place can cause sensory overload (too many sounds, noises that hurt their sensitive ears, blinding colors, etc…) which in turn can lead to a meltdown. What might look like a tantrum to you might be an autism meltdown. So don’t judge. Instead, give parents the benefit of the doubt
5/ Don’t offer platitudes. We really don’t want to hear phrases such as “he’ll get better,” “try this, try that,” “it’s just a phase,” “if it were my child….” Leave the recommendations to the experts. Mom and dad are trying their best. Instead, just be there for them. If they want help, they’ll ask for it.
I sincerely hope this article will help you befriend someone on the autism spectrum. If they don’t respond as you would expect, just remember, they are learning life skills and everyday there are new lessons to be learned. Keep trying. I promise, it is well worth the effort!
Questions, comments, suggestions from your own experience are always welcome. Please share with me in the comment box below.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PEACE





May the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.
2 Thessalonians 3:16

            Last night, we had a storm blow through. I woke to the sounds of thunder clapping, strong wind gusts and rain pelting the roof. The storm that had been lingering on the outskirts of our county was now upon us with a force that made me wonder if we were at risk of a tornado.
            I got up to check the weather radio, then looked in on the boys. I found Benjamin sound asleep, oblivious to the storm, noise-cancelling headphones over his ears. He is very fearful of storms, even though he knows we are safe inside our home. So when the weather man predicts a noisy night, he dons his headphones before he goes to sleep. Smart.
            We can’t always escape the many storms raging all around. At home, at work, in our nation and across the globe. Peace is a rare commodity these days. Autism and special-needs family especially know this as parents deal with frequent meltdowns, crises at school, the frazzle of days packed with appointments with their child’s therapists, counselors, doctors…. Most of us end up feeling like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
            Yet God assures us there is still peace to be found, no matter our circumstances. To obtain this peace, we need to go to the source itself; Jesus-Christ. He alone can pour His peace – deep, satisfying peace – into our hearts, minds, and souls. Just like a breath of fresh air saturates our entire body with oxygen, so Jesus fills our entire being with a sweet, calming peace. He might not still the storm that rages all around us, but He will still our hearts in the midst of the storm. His peace is free for the asking.
            This morning I asked my son if he slept through the storm. His reply: “Storm? What storm?”

            

Thursday, May 25, 2017

PUZZLE PIECES



Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)


            One of my favorite pastimes is working jigsaw puzzles. I love the challenge of opening a new box, then sorting through the hodgepodge of pieces for the flat-edged ones in order to frame out the puzzle.
At first glance, the various pieces seem nothing more than a jumbled mess of shapes and colors tossed into a box. Yet as I patiently sort and compare each one to the final picture, I am able to make some sense of it.
Occasionally, I run across a few pieces that just don’t seem to fit in with the rest and I am forced to lay them aside until I’m nearing the end.
            Another puzzle I’m always working on is the autism puzzle. One of our sons was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. It has been a interesting, yet rewarding challenge as we learn about autism itself, as well as work with our son to provide an environment in which he can grow and learn to live in a world that thinks and operates differently from him.
Fittingly, the nationwide symbol for autism is the puzzle piece; the pattern reflects the enigmatic and perplexing nature of ASD while the various colors and shapes represent the diversity and uniqueness of each individual on the spectrum.
Autism certainly can be very puzzling to parents as well as the professionals who work with these individuals. Yet more than that are the multitude of baffling questions associated with special needs. Why did God allow this? Will my child improve? How will my child cope in the ‘real’ world? Where do I find help? Will he or she ever be able to live an independent and fulfilling life?
Most of us will never receive answers to some of those pressing questions. A few, certainly, but not all. In our humanness, our understanding is limited. We struggle to comprehend God’s purpose in all of the complexities and challenges of raising a special-needs child. We can’t see the final picture because God has not revealed it to us. Yet.
This is where faith plays such an important role. Even though our present circumstances reach beyond our limited and finite understanding, we know God sees the final picture. Though some of the pieces just don’t make sense, He knows exactly where they fit in. Without those pieces the picture is incomplete, but when each one is in its proper place, even the questionable ones, the result is perfection.
One day, when we stand in God’s presence, we will see through spiritual eyes. All we have endured will finally make sense. Every moment of our lives will, at last, be understood in the grand scheme of His perfect plan.
For He holds the jigsaw box cover and the picture He’s been working on is simply stunning.

           
           



            

Thursday, May 11, 2017

HEALING TAKES TIME



          “This will take some time to heal properly.” Not what I wanted to hear from my physician. Given the option, I’d be walking by now; taking care of my home, my family, my responsibilities. But God didn’t choose that path for me. He chose the tougher road, the one that takes time and makes me wonder why the marathon instead of the sprint?
          As the result of a car accident on April 7, 2017, I have been very slowly recuperating from a foot and ankle injury. There were days and nights of brutal pain, shifting positions every few minutes in an effort to alleviate that pain and get some much-needed rest. There were days when the only thing I accomplished was to soak my pillow with tears.
          I am finally on the road to healing. That’s no easy road either. Yet through the pain, I’ve rediscovered a dependency upon God and my family that can’t be measured. In my need, others ministered to me. In my utter helplessness and dependency, I found love and caring from unexpected sources, people I’ve known but now consider true friends.
          Healing takes time. It takes tears and a whole lot of patience. But if we want to heal properly, be it physical, emotional or both, we need to live one day at a time, knowing that each pain-filled day brings us closer to the healing we so urgently crave. And as God works in our bodies and minds and souls, He is able to take each tear, each ache, and each sorrow, weaving it into a masterpiece that will ultimately bring glory to His name.
          His timing is always perfect. He’s not slow, He’s not late, He never forgets us in the midst of the pain. One of my favorite verses is a promise from Ecclesiastes 3:11; He makes all things beautiful in His time.

          I still don’t know why God allowed my accident to happen. But I am confident that He has a purpose and a plan and that in the end, He will bring complete and total healing to my body. There will still be scars and twinges of pain when the weather changes; but they are there to remind me God is faithful and working a beautiful plan for my life.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hope in the Wilderness


       The Israelites were confused. I can hear them murmuring; “What are we doing here?” “Why did Moses lead us this way?” “Did God deliver us from Pharaoh, only to die here in the desert?” Gradually their murmurs grew louder as they cried out ““Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
            With nothing but a vast expanse of water before them, a desert behind them and an army of 600 chariots bursting with armed troops, I know their knees had to be quaking. How could God possibly save them now? For that matter, where was God? The Bible paints a vivid picture of their state of mind: the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them (Exodus 14:10).
            Do you ever feel like there’s no hope in sight? A child who doesn’t seem to be reaching any of the goals or milestones you’ve set for him or her? A heart-rending prognosis? Facing bankruptcy or foreclosure? A hopeless marriage? A prodigal child? Problems looming overhead like dark storm clouds? If that’s you, then you understand what it feels like to stand in a seemingly hopeless situation.
            Chapter 13, verse 17 tells us that God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. Why the detour? Because God knows and understands the human heart. He knows we are frail and prone to doubt. He knows we are inclined to look at the temporal rather than the eternal. He knows our weaknesses, our insecurities. So God led the Israelites in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
            The problem with the Israelites was that they looked at their circumstances, not at their deliverer. They focused their gaze on the challenges all around them instead of looking to the Lord. Look at verse 21 of chapter 13; The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. So why did they doubt their deliverance? Because they allowed those terrible twins, fear and doubt, to enter into their hearts and minds.
            Have fear and doubt knocked at your door? How did you respond? It’s so easy to open the door just a crack to see who’s knocking. But once that door opens, fear and doubt will push their way in and overtake your life before you even realize what’s happened. I know. I’ve been there. They are a terrible duo that take months to vacate the premises. Unless you call upon God and ask His Spirit to flood your life, washing away the ravages that fear and doubt made on your soul.
            Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today… The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” I love those words; don’t be afraid/stand still/watch/stay calm. The thing is, if the God who delivered the Israelites is the same God who precedes you on your life’s path (and we know He is), then that promise applies to you. And me.
            Are you staring at a mountain in your way? Do you see raging waters before you and foes untold behind you? Does it seem like your life is at an impasse? Then print out this promise and paste it on your bathroom mirror where you’ll see it every morning and evening. Memorize it. Make it part of your daily life. Claim it and live it.
“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today… The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
Exodus 14:13.
            I like the way this adventure ends. God parts the sea then tells Moses “tell the people to get moving!” (Exodus 14:15) I can visualize thousands of men, women and children just standing there, gaping at the dry path through the Red Sea while, behind them, horses’ hooves pound the hard desert ground. Hundreds of chariot wheels beat the dry earth, stirring up a great cloud of dust and armor clinks as cries of “Go! Go! Go!” erupt from soldiers spurring on their horses. Pharaoh’s army is quickly closing the gap between the two camps. Yet the people are so awed by this epic event that they are frozen in place. Inconceivable!
But God does work miracles. Not always in the way we’d expect or according to the timetable we’ve set for him. He assures us that He leads each one of His precious children and is working in each one of our lives. Sometimes we can’t see Him because of all the obstacles that appear to be in the way. But God’s thoughts are different from our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). They are far greater than anything we can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  
Put your hope and trust in God. Give Him your heartache, your loved-one, your finances, your health, your future. Don’t see a way out? Give your dilemma to the LORD. He loves to work jaw-dropping miracles. I know. I’ve witnessed a few of them in my own life. And I know He can and will perform miracles in your own life, if you place your trust in Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Autism and change; 10 Strategies to help your child cope better with changes in routine




            Last week I addressed the issue of change in our lives. While some of us don’t care for changes in our routine, especially those that affect us negatively, many individuals with autism really struggle with any disruption in their schedule.
            In order to better understand this struggle, I’ve read several explanations written by individuals on the spectrum. One man explained it as “being the rope in a game of tug of war” because the schedule in his brain said one thing, but the unexpected disruption in his schedule told him another. He went on to state “change means that the brain can’t rely on the ‘programs’ it had been running before the change occurred.” Another person mentioned that “changes are difficult for an Aspie (short for Asperger’s’, a form of high-functioning autism) because it doesn’t follow the plan, it doesn’t match up, it doesn’t line up with the mental plan or train of thought.” A third individual described change as “you’re effectively re-writing my world.” (1)
            So how can parents help their children cope with changes? Here are a few suggestions.
1.    Create a steady home environment. Try to maintain a regular schedule at home and at school where the child feels safe and life is fairly predictable. Limit the amount of activities/appointments you schedule outside the home and focus instead on creating a steady environment inside the home, which will help him feel secure. You have to stabilize a boat before you send it out to sea. The same can be said of children on the spectrum.
2.    Create a visual timetable or schedule. With younger children, visual supports such as picture cards of daily activities (i.e.: brushing teeth, getting on the school bus) will help your child to know what to expect. For older children who can read, a simple schedule with times and activities should suffice. Adapt it each day as needed, inserting visual or written changes into the schedule. Address these changes at the beginning of the day so your child is prepared.
For big events such as birthday parties, holidays, celebrations, vacations, you can use a count-down calendar. Discuss with your child what might be expected and how they feel about it (i.e.: fears, expectations, etc..)
3.    Use timer or verbal warning to help transitions from one activity to the next. No one likes to be torn away from what they are doing. Offering your child a five to ten minute warning (i.e.: supper will be ready in five minutes) should reduce the likelihood of a meltdown. I like using a timer because it provides the child with a visual indication of the time that is elapsing.
4.    Reward positive response. If your child has responded well to changes in his daily routine, reward him. Praise him for his good coping skills and positive behavior. Rewards can be something as simple as allowing him to stay up five minutes longer that day, or earning five more minutes of TV time.
5.    Don’t linger or delay. If you need to run an errand after school, prepare your child beforehand. Then, once your errand is complete, don’t add other items to the day. For example, if you have to take your child to the dentist, don’t add on a trip to the shoe store or go out for pizza afterwards. In his mind, your child has ‘dentist’ scheduled and nothing else. Adding to the errand list is a sure way to stress him. He wants to get home so he can return to his ‘normally scheduled’ activities. For my son, he sees all after-school errands as time taken from his own personal schedule (i.e.: playing with his Legos, watching his favorite shows, etc.)
6.    Stay positive. Some errands can be extremely unpleasant. Nonetheless, it is very important to stay positive. Grumbling and complaining can add to your child’s stress and put him in a negative mood. Try to find a positive spin on whatever you have scheduled, even offering a reward at the end as incentive if your child is feeling anxious about it (i.e.: I always reward my children for good check-ups at the dentist. It makes the visit so much easier).
7.    Use social stories. Social stories are short stories that often include pictures and describe various situations people may encounter. They enable a child with autism to prepare for certain events (i.e.: what happens at the dentist) and also provides them with a framework upon which they can build their own unique experiences. You can find books of common social stories on line and at bookstores.
8.    Include items that speak of comfort and routine. The best example here is my son Benjamin. He loves Legos and always carries several Lego magazines with him when we leave the house. They offer him a tie with home and provide something familiar as well as a comfort zone (he can be carried into a world of Legos wherever he goes). Other items of comfort might be a favorite blanket, one or two special toys (be careful not to bring toys that come apart, or too many toys that might get lost or left behind as this is a sure recipe for a meltdown), favorite books or magazines, a special pillow…. Again, be sure to keep track of all items you bring!
9.    Visit new environment. If your child needs to change schools or doctor’s offices, it might be a good idea to visit the new place ahead of time (if possible). This can help alleviate some of his anxiety. If you can’t physically go to the new place, see if you can obtain some photos to give him some sense of recognition when he gets there.
10. Unpredictable or unexpected events. Life happens and kids need to learn that sometimes schedules change unexpectedly. Discuss the change as soon as possible with your child, preferably in a quiet place with limited distractions. Reassure him, stay positive, use distraction if he is growing anxious and provide him with a calming activity (i.e.: how many red cars can you find on the way to….?). Be sure to applaud him when he copes well.


Join the discussion: How do you cope with change? What helps or doesn’t help? Did this article clarify the issue? Was it helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, suggestions or personal experience in the comment box below.




(1)  www.quora.com/why-is-change-difficult-for-an-autistic-person

Monday, March 13, 2017

Learning to Change


To resist all form of change
 is to lock yourself in a self-made prison
and throw away the key.
Renée Vajko-Srch

           
            I’m one of those people who pays close attention to their car. I can hear and sense any differences in the way it drives. I make sure I bring it in to the mechanic every 3,000 miles for an oil change. Maybe that’s why it’s still running well with its odometer reading at 250,000 miles. That and a lot of prayer!
            When it comes to my own personal life, I am less receptive to change. I don’t like to change my clock every spring and fall. I don’t care for surprises in my carefully planned schedule nor like to modify my way of doing things. I confess, I like my rut. It’s safe, it’s predictable, reliable and doesn’t require any uncomfortable adjustments.
            Individuals with autism also struggle with change. It is one of the most common symptoms and is often met with a meltdown. There is a certain security in routines, repetition and predictability that individuals on the spectrum crave. My son Benjamin rises every day at 6 a.m. (even on the weekends), comes into our room to ask if he can play on the computer (a grumble from either side of our bed is considered a “yes”), then sets about the day with a tightly planned schedule. While he’s learning to be flexible (Mom can’t always have supper ready by 5 p.m.), he still prefers a heads-up if there is going to be a change of plans. This gives him time to readjust his thinking and his own personal time table. (just this morning he was asking me when we were going to spring-clean his room so he could plan the next two days accordingly – even though he’s on spring break and the job shouldn’t take more than an hour. I even had to provide him with a starting time and a stopping time – spontaneity died a long time agoJ ).
            I think most of us prefer situations that are familiar, our own personal comfort-zones where we know what to expect. When circumstances change or life events don’t turn out the way we want, we start to panic or look for a way out. Just look at our nation and how it’s responding to the changes Trump is trying to introduce. Reactions vary from disappointment and frustration to outright protests and even riots.
            One of the factors that has enabled Benjamin to learn a certain amount of flexibility is maintaining a stable environment. Our home life is steady and reliable, a shelter where he feels secure and the most important things to him don’t change (I’ve learned to check with him before I throw out anything that belongs to him – he remembers every single toy and every slip of paper that’s in his room – yeah, I know, it’s scary to think how much information is stashed in that brain of his).
            Some changes are good, others not so good. But in the midst of all the changes happening in our world, there is one who never changes; his name is Jesus. Psalm 18:2 says “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” (NLT). God provides stability in an uncertain world. When life seems to be falling apart and our plans have been tossed to the wind, there is one to whom we can turn, one who provides the peace and reassurance we need to face each day “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” (Isaiah 26: 3-4, NLT).
            Maybe you are going through some changes that don’t feel comfortable and hurt more than you’d like. While you may not be able to avoid these changes, ask God to use them to stretch you and make you into a stronger and better person. A rubber band is only useful when it’s being stretched.
If God is stretching you, remember, He’s the one holding each end and He won’t stretch you further than you can endure. He’s right there, holding you and using you for his purpose.