But What About Dash: How to explain Jesus to children on the Autism Spectrum

Last week a friend of mine asked me a question. She works for a preschool and also teaches Sunday School, and she has several kids with autism in that mix.

Her question was, “How in the world have you and Mr. Incredible taught your boys about God? How can I as a Sunday School teacher help the children in my class who are autistic gain an understanding of Jesus?”

The question is a hard one to answer, given that people with autism are visual and concrete. They like to SEE, and they like literal.  How does “Jesus lives in your heart” come across to them? I can only imagine.

While thinking about this, I was reminded of when Princess Buttercup was around 3 1/2 years old, and she understood about as much as any three year old that we all sin and need Jesus to take that away for us, and to accept Him into our hearts. It was an amazing night, the night she accepted Jesus.

I remember the following Sunday as if it is the present, not confined by time passed.

We are at church, standing in worship and I am heavily burdened with the thought, “But, what about Dash?”   How will I ever be able to explain God or Jesus to him?  He can’t “see” Jesus, he couldn’t possibly understand the concept of three persons in one, and those being invisible and living in your heart? It makes no sense. How will He ever understand?”

And God meets me right there. Stops me in my thinking tracks and says with a thunderous voice in my heart, “I made him the way he is.  I know how to reach him.”

It struck straight to my core. I didn’t have to figure it all out. God already has.

The captain crashes

One of many unusual places we found him alseep

Dash has always had sleeping problems, as is common for children with ASD’s.

At the age of 2 years 4month, he broke; he gave up his nap in the day and he gave up sleeping at night.

He was suddenly not able to calm his body down.  He would run from one end of his room to the other and crash into the wall and then reverse direction and repeat. Back and forth he’d go until 2am or later, when his body would become so exhausted it could no longer comply with his mind and he would collapse into required sleep.  This is when we “knew” something was wrong and started delving into researching what this could be.

Eventually we discovered Melatonin (Benadryl did not work) and we could finally get him to sleep at a reasonable time–compared to 2am, not reasonable for most 2 year olds!  He’d still often wake up in the night and play and just stay awake.  He slept anywhere between 2 and 6 hours a night.

So when I heard him up in the middle of the night one night shortly after God convinced me that He could reach him, I wasn’t too surprised.

I was surprised, however, to hear what I heard.

I imagine he was standing on his bed, but I don’t know this as the door was closed and I did not interrupt what was going on.  I felt like I was standing on Holy ground.

At the top of his lungs, he was singing, “I stand amazed in the presence, of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned unclean.” You can listen to the song here: I Stand Amazed (How Marvelous)

I wonder to this day, what happened in that room.   When I am in Heaven and can ask such questions, I fully expect to find out that Jesus was there; in his room. And Dash stood amazed in his presence. Goosebumps rise and I quiver just thinking about it.

I imagine he was singing the words to the song that explained what was happening at the time. He would often use phrases from songs to say what he didn’t have words for. He didn’t know how to comment, but what he’d see would remind him of a song, so he’d sing it.  Just like the time when I was pouring berry juice concentrate that was a deep dark blue-purple.  Instead of saying, “Wow, that sure is blue!” , he started singing, “I’m so Blue-ue-ue Blue-ue-ue Blue-ue-ue-Ue, I’m so Blue I don’t know what to do!” (from Madame Blueberry, VeggieTales)

Dash has always loved music.  Good music, like the kind we like (insert snicker).

He could sing before he could say words, which wasn’t until he was well over 3 years old.  Every night we all cuddle together on the couch and watch music videos of our favorite artists. We listen to music in the car, in the house. All the time.

Music has a way of reaching us where plain words to not; music can bypass the brain and go straight to the heart.

And God used that, to reach Dash.  He used music to bypass the literal, the visual and penetrate his soul.

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So back to the original question:  How do we teach the boys about Jesus; how do you teach children with autism about God?

Taking apart what has happened so far in Dash’s 9 year old life, I guess my answer would be mostly to pray for God to reveal himself in a way that he can understand; to reach him.  Next to that, I would recommend using visual tools like felt boards, and pray. And I would recommend using music to teach, and to pray.

Basically, I don’t think I did anything but provide an atmosphere that made it easier for them (Dash, and Sketch who is 7 years old and also has autism) to understand and then let God reach them, his way. No one is too hard for God to reach.  And it may not be “hard” at all, just different. Some people with ASD’s have a more-than-usual closeness to God, they are very aware of his presence.

All this being said, I encourage you to remember that we don’t have to figure it all out. God already has. Our best tool is prayer.

2 Cor 10:4  “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

To us mere neuro-typical types, autism can seem like a stronghold. I think this is because we don’t understand it all.  But God does.  And we are called to pray, which holds divine power to break though…to reach.

2 Chronicles 7:14-15 

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

 
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The Humdrum of the Once Fun

Sketch is in the basement (or “down-cellar” as they say in Maine), dressed in his favorite outfit of the one and only brand of underwear (put on backwards) that he will tolerate on his body.   He is listening to David Crowder’s DVD which has a grand total of approximately  4 songs on it.  They are absolutely fantastic songs (and I highly recommend them), however Sketch will listen to those same 4 songs all day long, over and over again, repetitively… exclusively, while he plays in the dark with trains, all day long, over and over again. That is, if I let him.

Dash is dressed in a  dark green T-shirt that says, “I do my best work while playing VIDEO GAMES!”. He is sitting at his Mac-Mini, playing his newly discovered computer game, Twizzle, over and over and over again, all day long, exclusively, repetitively, day after day…if I let him.

They both just love doing their “thing”, whatever it may be for the day, week, month. But, a couple hours into this, they will become grumpy, and they don’t realize the source of their dissatisfaction. Instead of moving on to a different activity, they will continue with the familiar.

The next day, they don’t remember the grumpy part at all.  They just recall how much fun they had when they started to play that yesterday. And so, they continue in the same pattern, day after day, over and over and over again…if I let them.

The fun, entertaining pastime transforms into a lifeless, monotonous, and tiresome activity.  An activity that they insist on continuing because it has become a part of their beloved routine.

Sometimes I have to tear them apart from their routine. They don’t realize they are grouchy because they are bored with the very thing that initially brought them so much joy. I remind them, “If it is no longer fun, then it is time to move on to something different!”

When a solution is offered, they balk at it, fighting tooth and nail while loudly wailing in defiance.  The thing they need…the cure, they refuse.

Sometimes, we behave the same way.  We find a groove, a routine we like. It works for us. Things go smoothly, for a while.  Then, over time we become unsatisfied, bored, or maybe even grumpy. Sometimes we don’t even know we are in a rut and we continue while slowly digging ourselves deeper and deeper thinking eventually we will come out on the other side, but in reality it is a very deep pit, a cavity beginning to decay.

Then, when we hear God tell us it is time to do something different, we get upset with Him because we still think we are going somewhere in our current ways.  We fight him tooth and nail…not wanting the solution that will save us, because we think we are saving ourselves. But God does not give up. He never leaves us even if we leave him.

Psalm 30: 2-3

“Oh LORD my God,  I called to you for help and you healed me.

Oh LORD, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit.”

Deuteronomy 31:8

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Are you in a rut?

Is God telling you it is time for a change?

Will you trust Him to guide you along His path?

Don’t be afraid, do not be discouraged.  God is leading you out. His plans are to give you a hope and a future!  (Jeremiah 29:11)  Just as we would not let our children to repeat the same thing over and over to a destructive end, God will not leave us either.  We show them the way out, and He shows us the way out too.  He is the perfect parent.

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