Moving from awareness to action; Now we know autistic people may be different, but how can our our actions make life easier for them? This piece by Thomas Christianson M.D will point us in the right direction!
“So what, if any, obligations do Christians and [non-Christians alike] have to those with special needs? And what can we do to help?
To answer the first question, the central story of Christianity is of the strong helping the weak. That’s what Jesus did. If we choose to ignore those who seem to have any challenge in some way, we quickly become the servant who, being forgiven a great debt, refused to show mercy for a small one.
I don’t know whether autism is caused by genetic devolution stemming from the fall of man, manmade chemicals and materials, or gamma rays from the planet Omicron Persei 8. What I do believe is we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus; we must do whatever we can in order to help people in need—which includes those with special needs.
Here are some thoughts that can help prepare you to bring hope and encouragement to people who are fighting to connect with a world that can seem foreign and alien at times.
Isolation Leads to Depression
Because those with special needs frequently struggle with communication or the ability to interact socially, they can feel isolated, and this isolation can lead to depression.
Make an effort to interact with people who seem to be different at church, in your workplace or in your neighborhood. People with special needs have frequently been kept apart from the majority of their peers, put in separate classes, treated differently. Church, in particular, affords a chance to stand equally before a God who created us all. Being willing to accept people who don’t necessarily “behave appropriately” all of the time opens us to the possibility of making connections with people who desperately need them.
Kids and Teens Are the Most Vulnerable
Special needs adults frequently have the ability to lead lives of varying independence, thanks to coping mechanisms they are able to put in place. They generally know their limits and put together a routine that allows them to process what life sends their way.
Kids and teens don’t have the life experience to manage what’s coming at them in the same capacity adults do. Special needs kids also frequently have trouble with communication, which compounds any issues they may have. I’ll never forget my daughter at 4 years old trying to talk to my wife and me but being unable to and simply breaking down and sobbing.
The first rule of interacting with special needs kids is to start by interacting with their parents. The parents can help you ensure you’re interacting with their child in a positive, meaningful way. Shouting a greeting and hugging a special needs kid could be a disaster. Many kids with an ASD have sensory issues (that is, trouble processing outside stimulus), so shouting would actually hurt their ears; many also have an aversion to physical touch, so a hug would upset them; and many have anxiety problems, so a stranger approaching them would put them in a great deal of fear. You could set a child off for the rest of the day despite your best intentions. Let the parents tell you what their child is and is not capable of handling. Take your cues from them.
Refuse To Be Condescending
Not everything a specials needs person does should be commended, just as we don’t commend everything done by a person without special needs.
Somebody who has trouble with verbal ticks (making sounds when you’re supposed to be quiet) or needs to handle sensory issues perhaps by getting up and walking around at an unusual time or using a handheld stress ball—or in the case of a kid, needing to be squeezed or play with toys—should not need to be glared at or thought less of in a group setting for being somewhat disruptive. But if somebody begins to cross over from acting out of their disability to acting out of disregard for others, it’s OK to address it.
For instance, if somebody with special needs brings a tambourine to church and plays it loudly out of time in the congregation, we do not need to say, “Bless his heart, let’s just encourage him as he praises!” Instead, we should invite them to the band practices or maybe offer to give lessons, asking that the tambourine playing doesn’t occur in the midst of a service until the music leader gives the OK. In some areas, giving a person with special needs the same standard as everybody else is the highest form of respect. We must know the difference.
Obviously, special needs vary from person to person. It wouldn’t be possible to write a comprehensive guide even on how to interact with only those who have an ASD. However, it is my hope we all see the need to make the effort. Interacting with people who need more grace and patience than others doesn’t only lift them up; it lifts us up as well. The compassion we learn by interacting with people who have special needs, the strength we see in them by refusing to let the world crush them despite their disadvantages, the ability to see the divine imprint even in a “broken” vessel—this deepens and strengthens our faith. And as we stretch out our hands to those who are weaker than us, I believe we can and will receive the same treatment from the One who is greater than us all.”
By Thomas Christianson M.D
What are your thoughts? any other ideas on how we can help people with special needs? Do not hesitate to share!