The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today

Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. A new study has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. Families of children with other disabilities are missing from the pews as well. These are the parents who grew up in the church. Whose fathers were preachers, elders, deacons and whose mothers were Sunday School Teachers and Ladies Bible Class members.  These parents of children with disabilities are aching for their child to know the same love of a church family as they did.

I can vouch for this describes my family. Our oldest son has Autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know that there are often barriers that prevent children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. So what are the barriers and how can we, as parents and church leaders, accommodate by emulating Christs ministry to all?

Church is a large social gathering that in itself, difficult for anyone with autism. The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody ever intends. Sensory, Anxiety, etc. It is another potentially overwhelming situation (like school, grocery shopping, etc.) that is asked of autistic kids on a regular basis. Unlike most people, they don’t leave church feeling refreshed and renewed to face the week ahead. 

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  – John 9:1-3

As a parent of a child with a disability, know that you have been prepared for the road less traveled. God will not give you more than you can bear and He (the Almighty) prepared you, as he did your child, for this journey.

Below is a statement my son Samuel said when he was very young and we have it printed and hanging by our front door:

Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package…think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.

Samuel Allen

I would agree with Sam. As medical science begins to unravel and understand the brain and the effects of autism, we as a society and especially as the Church, should subside our fear of ‘different’ and embrace God’s beautiful design in worship together. On the other hand, parents should take note of a saying I’ve often heard Dr. Temple Grandin state: “Autism is not an excuse for bad manners.” Parents need to be cognisant not only of their child and their needs, but the ability for others to hear the sermon thus keeping the focus on God.

On Tuesday, September 17th, 2019, I was honored to have presented a lecture at my alma mater, Abilene Christian University. It was ACU Summit 2019 and my topic given: Autism and the Church today. With the overall Summit theme of “Sorrow, Hope & Joy” (a tribute to the Psalms) my heart knew (all too well) all three emotions and suspect yours does too. I offer to our Aspergers101 readers the entire presentation and downloadable tri-fold brochure if this message resonates with you or someone you love.

May you know you are never alone and as with all things…the answer resides in living like Christ. In the following presentation, we explore his teachings and apply them toward raising a family with a disability in the church today.  

Below is a downloadable tri-fold brochure you may want to share with your church or autism/parent organization.

Inclusion and compassion was everything Christ personified on earth. I think there is a strong correlation for both the church and the family seeking Gods unconditional love.

I hope the materials above offers insight and some steps toward inclusion and above all…a comfort to know you are not taking your less traveled path alone.

by: Jennifer Allen/Founder & CEO Aspergers101

Ultimate Guide: Understanding High-Functioning Autism & Aspergers Syndrome

 The following is an excerpt taken from the documentary: Coping to Excelling: Solutions for School-age Children Diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers SyndromeMedical reports reveal a profound discovery in the brain of those with High-Functioning Autism. Studies with MRI imaging document an actual physical difference in some areas of the autistic brain verses that of a neuro-typical brain.

Neurological pathways fire differently in Asperger patients than that of a typical brain function. It has become clear that individuals who are diagnosed as High-Functioning Autistic or Aspergers receive their gifts and struggles from a physical medical basis not behavioral, as you may have been pressured to believe. Once we understand exactly how the challenges occur, we can begin to lead our loved ones with Aspergers on the path from coping to excelling.

We interviewed experts in the field of Autism to offer you a quick read on understanding High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome.

Upcoming Event! Jennifer Allen to Speak at ACU Summit

“The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today”

Jennifer Allen, 9:30-10:15 AM

Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. The Great Commission instructs us to go and preach the gospel to all nations, to all people … and as for those with disabilities, we must put aside our fear of “different” by first understanding the uniquely wired brain and then providing accommodation(s). Jennifer Allen will share her family’s personal journey of having a child diagnosed with autism and how the less traveled path to Jesus, though oftentimes rocky, offers beautiful vistas that neurotypicals seldom witness. This session is for the church to better understand the challenges that face these families along with suggested accommodations and especially for the parent torn about church and their children.

THE FACTS:

When: Tuesday, September 17th

Time: 9:30a – 10:15a

Where: ACU Summit on the Campus of Abilene Christian University 

               ACU Biblical Studies Building 1201850 Teague Boulevard

               Abilene, TX 79601 – Room 120

Cost: Free

Go to ACU Website for full information on ACU Summit 2019  or download the full ACU Summit 2019 Program here. Note: Jennifer Allen’s presentation: The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today is listed on page 23.

24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

A woman with her hand on her head, grimacing. Text reads: 24 surprising physical symptoms of anxiety

24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

To learn some of the ways anxiety not only affects your mind — but your body — we asked people in our mental health community to describe what physical symptoms of anxiety they deal with, and what they feel like.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I get into high anxiety, sometimes out of nowhere, I get GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms. Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain. It’s tough because there is nothing I can do but just try to wait it out.” — Michele P.

2. “Does anyone else find themselves antsy after a big panic attack where you can barely sit still and then for the next couple days, you’re completely mentally/physically exhausted? I feel like everything is just too much and I can’t move.” — Kristen G.

4. “In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, and no jacket or blanket helps. I just have to ride it out until it goes away.” — Monica M.

San Antonio Family’s Autism Education Efforts Lead to New State Law

by: Roseanna Garza/Rivard Report
August 29th 2019

“A patrol officer driving on a local freeway came across a young man wielding a two-by-four in the middle of the inside lane as cars zoomed quickly past. Upon approaching him, the officer, whom SAPD declined to identify, quickly recognized the youth had a cognitive impairment and was not suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues.

Using communication skills learned from the Allens, the officer talked the young man into putting the piece of lumber down, and then helped him get off the freeway and return safely home.”

-San Antonio Police Chief William McManus  (for the rest of this story, click on the link above)

BONNIE ARBITTIER / RIVARD REPORT

Families and School Working Together to Support Children with Asperger Syndrome

by: Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, Educational Consult/AANE

The role of the classroom teacher is of utmost importance in ensuring the success of the child with an Asperger Syndrome. The classroom teacher sets the tone of the class and is responsible for making sure all the needs of the children are being met. Like an orchestra conductor, the teacher is the one person that keeps things together and “in tune.” (Cumin, Dunlop, & Stevenson 1998) The teacher creates an environment that values all learners, and helps children succeed in their own individual ways.

With appropriate supports and accommodations, students with AS can excel and be very rewarding to teach. Here in a nutshell are some of the best educational practices culled from my twenty years in education. In order to help students with AS succeed—even flourish—in your classroom, try these strategies:

Create a calm, orderly classroom with clear rules, routines, and expectations, reviewed regularly. Consistency and structure help our socially challenged children be successful.

Watch and protect children with AS, to make sure they are not excluded, teased, or bullied. No child should have to live in fear—and fear makes it very hard to learn and grow.

  • Create a class environment where all children feel comfortable. In all your words and actions, model respect and acceptance for all the children. You will make a lasting impression on your students.
  • Be aware of the social structure of the classroom: Who are “popular” kids in the class? How much do others listen and follow their lead? How can you intervene to change attitudes, and prevent bullying and teasing of vulnerable students with AS?
  • Foster positive interactions among peers in the classroom, and in less structured environments such as the playground, cafeteria, and hallways. You may wish to ask a speech therapist how to do “social coaching” for your student with AS.
  • Classroom disclosure—teaching all students about AS—can be a powerful antidote to intolerance. AANE can suggest strategies, books, DVDs, and articles.
  • Encourage your school administration to institute school-wide or district-wide bullying-prevention curricula.

The Autism Charm

Jewelry Designed to Impart how it “Feels” to have Autism

One of the highlights when Sam and I speak at autism conferences is the reaction to a simple painting he had created depicting how it ‘feels’ to have autism. His interpretation offers a great insight and a relate-ability satisfying most neurotypical minds.  As a result to the overwhelming positive feedback…we incorporated Sam’s painting into our logo and now have made it into jewelry to wear!


Make no mistake, this is a fundraiser. 100% of all proceeds will directly fuel the cost to provide Aspergers101 as an ongoing free resource and it’s outreach! You can read more about our work at the end of the blog but the focus of this blog is on you and our most uncommon path of raising a child with Autism/Asperger Syndrome.

The Path Less Traveled

The Autism Charm was created out of experience. Both mine and Sam’s journey, though unique to us, is shared by everyone who has a child diagnosed with Autism or Asperger Syndrome. It’s a path less traveled. Early on, a parent finds themselves a bit of an Indiana Jones forging their way through the bramble and uncertainty of EVERYTHING…but you forge on. Years of working together seems each grade advancement was a huge accomphlishment and for a moment, a plateau to rest until onward and upward yet again. You know the path. It was on this isolated journey I met a friend who had, up until that time, also forged it with her son…alone. We formed a most valuable, immediate friendship that felt like an exclusive club! There were others out there and that felt good.

The Parents Bond of Autism

It was from this newly formed friendship that I realized our paths should not be forged alone. If anything, being down the path a bit my family and I then decided to reach out to help others just starting out. Knowledge was power and there is nothing more powerful than a mothers bond of a child with autism…we know each others struggles! Do you find yourself immediately drawn to another parent whose child is on the spectrum? An empathy and fierce loyalty is instant! To remind me of this bond and that I am not alone as I feel, my friend gave me a bracelet that I’ve worn out! It has a symbol of autism that though only she and I wore, that was a daily reminder that I can get through this….there are others!

The Autism Charm Design

So now we, Aspergers101, have taken the logo Samuel designed and made it into a charm bracelet or necklace! We hope you wear it with pride and know that you are never alone in your struggles. Of course, it is through my families faith in God that offers us peace but good to be reminded that others tread the brambled path of Autism. I’ll repost Sam’s description of his design:

New Law Protects Texas Drivers diagnosed with Autism, Deaf or Hard of Hearing

EXPLAINED: The New Process and Form(s) for Registering your Vehicle as a Person with a Communication Challenge in Texas

Effective September 1st 2019: The Samuel Allen Law (Senate Bill 976) enacted by the 86th Legislature, adds Transportation Code Section 502.061, allowing an applicant to voluntarily indicate at the time of initial registration or registration renewal that they have a health condition or disability that may impede effective communication with law enforcement.

Samuel Allen/Spokesperson Driving with Autism Initiative

Present the completed certification below to your local county tax assessor-collector’s office when applying for initial registration or renewing registration. Presentation of the completed certification will authorize the addition of a communication impediment notation to your motor vehicle record. This notation will inform law enforcement you have a health condition or disability that may impede effective communication with a peace officer.

Background

The Samuel Allen Law will allow a person challenged with communication, (Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Deafness, Hard of Hearing, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, Mild Intellectual Disability and more) the option for disclosure when registering their vehicle through the Texas DMV. Communication Impediment will be privately placed in the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS) thus alerting the officer of the challenge PRIOR to approaching the vehicle in a pull-over scenario. This unprecedented law will not only save lives by alerting law enforcement for better communication, but will also keep the diagnosis hidden from public scrutiny as opposed to bumper stickers or license plate designations. Note: Texas DPS already offers “Communication Impediment with a Peace Officer” as an optional restriction code on State Driver License or ID. 

Form VTR-216 (below) must be completed by a licensed physician if the applicant has a physical health condition or a licensed physician, licensed psychologist, or a non-physician mental health professional if the applicant has a mental health condition. Form VTR-216 is available online at www.TxDMV.gov or you may click on the form below to download here.

Click on Form to Download

If you choose the option to disclose a communication impediment to be placed privately in the Texas TLETS, you will need to submit Form VTR-216 at time of vehicle registration renewal with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The Samuel Allen Law takes effect September 1st, 2019 in the state of Texas.

What constitutes a Communication Challenge (Impediment)? 

Most common diagnoses include: Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Mild intellectual disability, Deafness, Speech & languages disorders, Expressive Language Disorder, Down Syndrome, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Deafness, Brain Injury or Parkinson’s Disease

For more information on the Texas Driving with Autism initiative and the Samuel Allen Law click here.

For questions regarding the process of vehicle registration with the Texas Department of Vehicles, you may contact:

Caroline Love/Director of the Government and Strategic Communications Division for Texas DMV
Caroline.Love@txdmv.gov (512) 465-1484

Samuel Allen Honored at Texas State Capitol

Effective Sept. 1st 2019, The Samuel Allen Law will allow individuals with conditions that may affect their communication abilities, the option to disclose that information when registering a vehicle with Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

AUSTIN, TX (August 15th 2019) Samuel Allen speaks to the media from the Texas State Capitol/Governor’s Press Room

AUSTIN, Texas — Aspergers101’s Samuel Allen was honored at the Texas State Capitol yesterday for his work pushing for an act that helps individuals with conditions that may affect their communication abilities better interact with law enforcement.

What this Means to Texas Drivers

Senate Bill 976 (SB 976), also known as the “Samuel Allen Law,” allows a person with a condition or disability that may cause them communication issues – such as Autism, Asperger’s, Deafness or Hearing Impairment, PTSD, Parkinson’s and more – the option to disclose that information when registering their vehicle through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

If an individual with one of these conditions has elected to make that known on their vehicle registration and then they are pulled over, the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System will alert the officer prior to approaching the vehicle that the person may have trouble communicating.

The act also removes the need for a bumper sticker or license plate marking so the driver’s condition is kept private. The Samuel Allen Law, which goes into effect September 1st, will be the first of its kind in the nation.

Jennifer Allen, Founder/CEO of Aspergers101 and championing the “Driving with Autism” initiative, said that the passage of SB 976: The Samuel Allen Law is the remaining piece of the puzzle for the program she began almost 5 years ago with Texas DPS. Supported by the Texas Governors Committee on People with Disabilities, Allen’s “Driving with Autism” initiative has three (interacting) working components to better communication between Law enforcement and Texas citizens with autism or other communication challenges:

  1. Driver License – Option for Texas Drivers to place “Communication Impediment” as a DPS restriction code directly on the Driver License or State ID with state-wide marketing campaign including placing informative posters and brochures in all Texas DPS offices.
  2. Law Enforcement Training – Texas Law enforcement training modules placed directly in TCOLE (the online training for all Texas law enforcement) to better understand drivers diagnosed with autism and/or other “Communication impediments”
  3. TLETS- Option for Texas Drivers to acknowledge a “Communication impediment” upon DMV vehicle registration thus alerting officers privately through Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS).

What constitutes a Communication Challenge? 

Most common diagnoses include: Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Mild intellectual disability, Deafness, Speech & languages disorders, Expressive Language Disorder, Down Syndrome, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Deafness, Brain Injury or Parkinson’s Disease.

For more information on the process of registering your vehicle with Texas DMV, please contact:

Caroline Love/Division Director/TxDMV Government and Strategic Communications 512.465.4019 Caroline.Love@TxDMV.gov

Click here for more information on The Samuel Allen Law and the “Driving with Autism” Texas initiative:

More on Driving with Autism Initiative