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.

 

Playing Hide and Seek

Where's Princess Buttercup?

For the second time today, I lost Sketch. (Note:  this was written a few weeks ago)

But, before I go into that story, let me give you some background information.

There has been a bit of a theme around here, with the game Hide-And-Seek. The other day, the twins Dash and Princess Buttercup were playing this game together in the basement.  It was so fun to watch them play and hear them laugh together…well, until Princess comes out crying because Dash stopped looking for her and she was waiting in her hiding place for quite a while.  He got distracted by something he suddenly considered to be more fun. Oh, the joys of ADHD along with the lack of awareness of social rules or how his behavior effects others!

For those of you who are new to this blog, let me introduce to you the cast of characters: Sketch is our 6 years old boy, with autism/adhd/anxiety.  Dash & Princess Buttercup are 9 year old twins. Dash also has autism/adhd, and Polkadot, is our 6 month old baby girl.

Back to today. The first time Sketch went missing was at church when he wandered off after Sunday School.  In his mind, he followed the rules. The teacher told him, “You need to stay in this room until your parents come.”  And, he did.  And when we got there, he left…sigh… At least he was found (after much heart pounding) and he was very much ok.  He looked up at me with a smirk and said, “Hide-And-Seek?”

Sketch must have been noticing what the other kids in Sunday School were doing, because another child was also “missing” today.  It turned out that she was playing Hide-And-Seek but her mom was not aware of this.  As her mom and the Sunday School teachers looked for her, Dash was pointing to the hiding place saying, “She’s in here!” but ironically, no one listened to him.

Fast forward to later on this afternoon. Sketch went missing again!  When I realized it was very quiet in the house, I called out to Mr. Incredible who was laying on the couch, “Where’s Sketch?”  Off in the not-so-distant bedroom came his cute little voice under his bright red and green VeggieTales comforter, “Here I am!”  (This is the first time he’s ever answered that unprompted!)

This morning, as we drove to church, we drove by another church with a sign displaying 2 Chronicles 15:2 “If you seek Him, He will be found by you”.

Seems like God likes to play Hide-And-Seek as well.  Problem is… sometimes we aren’t seeking…or maybe we were and we got distracted by something that seems to be more interesting.  Or, maybe we are seeking but like so often happens, we can’t see what’s right before our eyes until somebody else calls our attention to it saying, “Here He is!  He’s in here!”

The nice thing about Hide-And-Seek with God is that He will always be found by you.  If call for him, he will answer “Here I am” just like Sketch did this afternoon.

The question is, are we listening?

Here I am!

Jeremiah 29:13-14: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD,“and will bring you back from captivity.

Mothers Day in a Spectrummy Kinda Way

What a day!  I was just starting to wake this morning, with the gentle breeze blowing the sheers in the window along with the yellow rays of sunlight, when my dear Princess Buttercup enters the room.  Perfect timing.  She carried a silver tray with a heirloom coffee pot full of that wonderful, favorite dark roast blend, full-caffiene coffee that I love, mixed with perfect dashes of cream and sugar.

On the tray was also a wonderful breakfast with freshly baked muffin, freshly picked berries from the garden, a beautifully folded veggie omlet and home-made hashbrowns.  She’d been up for a while, it seems!  She balanced all of this on her 8 year old hand, and carried it up the stairs to me, dressed in fine lenin,  wild flowers tucked into her french braids and corsage on her wrist!  When did she learn to french braid her own hair?

Next comes Dash, the Princess’ twin brother.  He is wearing a 3 piece suit with boutonnière.  Perfectly groomed, he comes bearing gifts of various sizes.  And behind him comes the youngest little cherub, Sketch (6), also dressed formally with boutonniere.  Sketch has drawn beautiful pictures, fit for an art gallery, of sunshine and roses dancing around his family.  What a portrait!

Mr. Incredible had already fed the 3 little ones, and made sure they were all ready for church this morning.

We walk into the building beaming with the wonders of Mothers Day… the children calm and beautiful.

Lunch afterward was even better.

We went to a very expensive, fancy restaurant… Mr. Incredible had made reservations so there was no waiting.  The children sat in their chairs at the table, engaging in polite conversation as we enjoyed our meals.  A piano was being played in the background… more wonderful coffee…the atmosphere just perfect.

Once home, Mr. Incredible and I snuck in an afternoon nap as the children cleaned the house.  We woke up to sparkling floors and lemon-scent bathrooms. No dust in sight!

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Ok, what really happened was more like this:

We wake up to Dash (for those who don’t know, he has autism & a heavy dose of adhd) yelling in his room because he’s frustrated with his k’nex.  He decides he’s hungry so he finds his most irritatingly fussy voice, pushes our door open and with it demands, “I’m hungry. I want some food to eat!”  Correct pronouns…but really???

This does not wake us into a good mood at all…so we tell him to go this his room and be quiet!  Waiting for a more inviting moment to get up, we listen to him continue to complain and fuss.  Giving up on that idea, I sneak downstairs to take my shower so we will have enough time for church.

Mr. Incredible makes sure to give Dash his medication for adhd so he will be easier to live with calm down and be more likely to get ready for church.

After my shower, I entertain the kids while Mr. Incredible gets cleaned up and ready for church.  This means, I sit next to Sketch (also with autism & adhd) and draw copies of DVD covers, perfectly according to his specifications, and including all the fine print, just like the past 100 times he had me do this!!!  But Sketch is happy…

Princess Buttercup is dressed in jeans and her butterfly shirt she’s worn the last few days, hair un-brushed.  Dash clothed himself in a red t-shirt and baggy jeans…hair mixed with breakfast crumbs!  At this point, Sketch is still dressed in his routine outfit of unraveling blue knit hat, and undies.

Mr. Incredible made an adorable Mothers Day video for me, with the kids all saying, “Happy Mothers Day! I love you, Mommy!”  It was very cute.   Then came some Mothers Day presents and cards.  I do have a very nice cup of coffee (k-cup style, dripped directly into a stained & cracked mug) this morning!

Finishing getting ready for church went fairly smoothly, with only one or two meltdowns.  This morning it is because Dash’s worst fear confronted him as a wasp flew into the kitchen.  Full-blown panick-stricken child of 8 tears through the house to his bedroom where he is “safe”.  We don’t see him again until it is time to load up the car…and of course, there is a bumblebee in the greenhouse right next to the car!

On the way to church, Dash concludes that he will play outside again in the winter, when it is safe because there are no bees.

Church went wonderfully.  The kids stayed in their sunday school class and no one had meltdown, and no one was kicking other children… That was sooo nice.

On the way out of church though, was another story.  Dash’s phobia of bees is worse this year. He screamed the entire way to the car because the sun was out and there may be a bee…ugh!

Besides that screaming fit,  they behaved very well at Sunday School, and we told Sketch if he was good we could go through the drive through at McDonalds (cheers from all the kids, and Sketch was truly beaming in excitement!).

Now, he (Sketch) doesn’t eat ANYTHING there, nor can he (except for a pre-packaged juice box, but he won’t drink that because it isn’t White-Grape juice, and it has to be in his Nalgene sippy cup) because of food allergies. He was incredibly excited though, because he got to listen to the drive-thru attendant talk through the speaker, and watch the entire transaction. HEAVEN!

We didn’t get lunch there, we just got some Vitamin Water… never underestimate the power of a Vitamin Water bribe!

At home I cook lunch.  Dash throws a major fit because Sketch came in the house and left the door open for a few seconds (bees could come in, you know!) so he ends up in his room to calm down.

I had bought some toaster waffles (so I didn’t have to cook) and microwave organic sausages, and pears.  Just heat & serve on Solo paper plates!  The afternoon continued as any Sunday afternoon would… a couple meltdowns, a couple defiant I-don’t-want-to screams, watching Veggie Tales, trying to sneak in a nap, cooking & dishes.

Dinner plans you ask??  Well of course!  Frozen Pizza!  Newmans Own.  Just heat & serve!

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This was a typical Mothers Day for us.  Knowing we wouldn’t go out to eat today, I made things the kids would love  & enjoy (and eat without complaining) with minimal “work”.  They loved it and were very happy to have it, which makes me very happy too.  Meals can be big stressors around here, so by eliminating that for the day is very much a break for us all!  Incorporating things like drive-thru’s to make a child beam in delight is another easy thing to make the day go more smoothly and joyfully.  If I could have contained all the bees in the area today, I would have done that too!  It is because of my kids that I am given the title of Mom.  Giving them a less-stress day is just as meaningful to me as if I were relaxing on Mothers Day.

Typical days are full of stress in a house with kids on the spectrum.  Stress often leads to short tempers, and harsher-than-intended words (like this morning with Dash).

Today at church we sang a wonderful song called More Than Amazing.  In the chorus, it says, “Forgetting all my sins, You remember all your promises”.  What a wonderful thing to be reminded of:  That our God does not make his promises to us (to help, protect, love, provide, etc.) contingent on our “good behavior”.  He remembers all his promises and applies them to our lives even when we are messing up over & over again.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that enjoys giving rest to his children too!

Psalm 127:2
It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Isaiah 40: 29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Happy Mothers Day everyone!

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