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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Sing, Sing, Sing…

Robbie


Sometimes we just don’t know what to say.  Sometimes we know what we mean but no words seem adequate to describe it.  Sometimes we can’t think of that certain word that would be just the right way to put something, to convey our thought.  Sometimes we can’t find any words at all to express our feelings.  Sometimes we don’t even know what we are feeling.

Sometimes we have a tune in our heads, but can’t remember all the words to the song.  We may have a general idea of what the song is about, but be unable to sing the words, so we either just hum the tune, or make up approximations to the words.

Robbie and Chris love to sing.  When they have a song going through their head they just sing it out…sometimes loudly.  Most of the time though, they don’t know all the words.  They don’t know what the words mean so they approximate them and it comes out all jumbled and confused.  For those who know the song already, the words can be picked out and understood.  Robbie, has been doing this a lot lately.  He loves David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, Brooke Fraser, Hillsongs, and many other “grown up” songs as well as all the childrens songs he has ever heard.  The more grown up songs have words the kids just have no idea what they mean.  So they sing something close to it.

This reminds me so much of when we pray but don’t know what to pray, and so we “groan” what words cannot express.  We don’t know what we are praying, but God does.  He hears our groans, and understands completely.

Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

So let us take an example from these children who don’t have the social inhibitions sometimes, to hide what they don’t know, and pray out to God.  Let the words (groans) come out however they will.  He knows what we mean.  He knows what all the words are that we are looking for.  He understands it all.

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