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 above materials offer 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

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Individuals with Aspergers

Anxiety-related symptoms are frequent concerns in children, adolescents and adults with Aspergers and HFA, which may be treatable with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

the pain

Anxiety is commonly found in high functioning individuals on the spectrum in particular because they have an increased awareness of their own social difficulties. This cognitive awareness may intensify their anxiety toward social interaction and promote isolation.

Recent numbers found that 11-84% of children on the autism spectrum experience impairing anxiety, while only 4.7% of all children aged 3-17 years have experienced anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps individuals recognize how thoughts and feelings influence behavior and cope with these challenges.

CBT is used to treat a wide range of issues, in addition to anxiety, including:

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 2019

“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. 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 view 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.

During a Meltdown

A meltdown is scary and lonely. A change in routine can be enough to tip the scales in sensory input and cause what is titled a “meltdown” where a person with autism or asperger syndrome temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors. They aren’t usually caused by one specific thing.

Triggers build up until the person becomes so overwhelmed that they can’t take in any more information. In previous blogs, we have addressed the complex topic of meltdowns. While the main message is to have a plan to PREVENT a meltdown, we must also be prepared if a meltdown does occur.

Portrait of unhappy screaming teen girl

I will start by outlining what NOT to do. I think this is best said coming from someone that has lived through a meltdown with neurological implications.  The following is an excerpt from a message from Mr. John Scott.

Meltdowns: What Not to Do

My meltdowns can be very frightening and confusing for those around me. I work very hard to appear as capable and composed as possible throughout each day, so when I finally lose it, people are shocked to see me act so “autistic.” I cry, scream, break things, flap my hands, and pound my fists against my head. I haven’t found the perfect remedy for my meltdowns, but I do know what makes them far worse… 

If I am having a meltdown… 
– DO NOT become angry with me or raise your voice. 

Autistic meltdowns may be frightening to observers, but at their most intense, they are nothing less than pure psychological torture for the person experiencing them. I feel as if I am caught in a war zone, terrified for my very life. My senses are on fire and I have very little control over myself. I may feel threatened by intense emotional displays. This is very dangerous. 

– DO NOT attempt to restrain me. 
I understand that my tantrums are scary, as I’m well over six feet tall, but you must remember that I am far more frightened than you are. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, but if you approach me in a hostile manner, or attempt to use any force without my permission, I may lose the last bit of self-control I have. 

– DO NOT ask me what is wrong. 
Trust me, when I’m banging my head into the wall I do not want to discuss my emotional triggers. 

– Most importantly, DO NOT tell me to “snap out of it.” 
Trust me, I would if I could. Don’t patronize or belittle me by acting as if I could control myself if I only tried harder. This is a good way to make the situation ten times worse.
You may know me from my column here on WrongPlanet. I’m also writing a book for AAPC. Visit my Facebook page for links to articles I’ve written for Autism Speaks and other websites.

CLICK HERE  for the entire posting.

I would like to add one more . . . this is not the time to say “Use your words.”  As the brain escalates in a meltdown, the ability to be rational and articulate diminishes.

So now for what TO DO?

  • During a meltdown a child most needs the opportunity to relax. Therefore, you should respond patiently and compassionately as you support this process. Offer choices of relaxing activities, perhaps through the use of a choice board. If the person is not able to make a choice, then simply present a pre-determined calming activity. Often, this might be an activity that incorporates a strong interest [e.g. video of SpongeBob or favorite song/music].
  • In some cases, it might be best to offer a way out of the situation through escaping the current stimulation of the environment. Again, a pre-determined location might be another room or other safe place [e.g. chill zone, motor lab, etc.].  However, it might be difficult for the individual to transition to another location if the meltdown is at its peak.
  • If there are others in close proximity, then it should be part of the plan to move them to a safe place.
  • Most importantly, do everything possible to keep the individual safe from him or herself. If they engage in head banging, protect their head by placing a pillow or bean bag between them and the floor or wall.

As you can see, there is little to really do during a meltdown. Again, all efforts should be made to PREVENT a meltdown.

by Lisa Rogers

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.

Autism and Emotional Intelligence Growth to Build Strong Mental Resilience

Having Autism is tough as it is already because you may come across many people who do not understand or care about you. You may often be made fun of because of the way you look, walk or anything you do or say. It’s a continuous battle that I deal with every day and unfortunately there exists people who will talk and make fun of you no matter what. Know that you are not alone. I have 2 simple idea on how to enhance your emotional intelligence (or Emotional Quotient, EQ) to counteract this negative feedback and restore your mind with positive thoughts.

As has previously been discussed on Aspergers101, emotional intelligence is a crucial skill to learn and practice that can greatly benefit you in many areas of your life. But how exactly do we get there? The steps below should help guide you towards building your emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

How can we enhance our emotional intelligence (EQ)?

  • Listen to your body:

A gut feeling you have about a particular situation such as quitting your job is a sign that something is not right either about the situation, or something is not right about quitting your job. If your body gives you an alert signal about a certain situation, pay heed because it may save you from a dangerous outcome. Listening to these signals and the root feelings of the sensations in your body will process your power of reason.

  • Always ask yourself, how do you feel?:

From a score of 0-10, with 10 being the best and most positive and 0 being the lowest and least confident, write it down in a journal to record how you feel each day overall. If you’re having a bad day, examine how or what caused you to feel this. Explore what transpired that day that made you feel down and how it connects with your overall feelings.

  • Write down your feelings and thoughts:

Effects of Bullying: Dr. Tony Attwood

School is much like a war zone for many of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Bullying occurs primarily (but not limited to) the Middle School years. Dr. Tony Attwood chimes in on the torment and potential solutions in this video clip from the documentary: Coping to Excelling.

tony

Dr. Tony Attwood

Temple Grandin on Her Search Engine

Originally posted July 1, 2019 by PBS Digital Studios/ Blank on Blank

You’ve probably heard the story that Einstein – whose name is synonymous with genius – didn’t seem destined for much when he was a small child. He was years behind other children when it came to learning to talk, he did horribly in school. It seems that Einstein’s brain just worked differently than most other people’s. And many people these days are saying that Einstein was probably autistic – one of them is Temple Grandin.

“Everything in my mind works like a search engine set for the image function.” – Temple Grandin in 2008, from an oral history at Colorado State University.

Temple Grandin is a professor of animal sciences who’s worked in the meat industry to invent kinder ways to lead cattle to slaughter. She’s also autistic – the high-functioning version known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Autism, in case you don’t know, is a brain disorder that tends to affect people’s social skills, like the ability to read facial expressions and body language, but it can also mean extraordinary talent in math, music and the visual arts.

Temple Grandin has become something of a celebrity of autism. She’s written books, given TED talks, and she’s been around the world to speak on the subject. Claire Danes has even played her in a movie about her life.

As part of our special series, The Experimenters–where we uncover interviews with the icons of science, technology, and innovation…– we found this interview in the holdings of Colorado State University, where Temple teaches. In this conversation, Temple’s at her best, explaining for the rest of us what it’s really like to have an autistic brain and how Einstein’s not the only genius who could have been dismissed for being different.

More Blank on Blank episodes: http://blankonblank.org/pbs

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: