Autism Awareness

Q: What is Autism?
Like many other mental diseases, Autism is vastly misunderstood. Autism Spectrum Disorders describe a wide range of disorders with symptoms that vary in type and severity.
– Autism is described as “a group of complex disorders of brain development.”
– No one really knows what causes Autism.
– No two individuals with Autism are the same.
– Punishment/Consequences cannot eliminate Autistic behaviors.
Q: How do individuals with Autism act?
Autistic individuals (as well as individuals with other mental illnesses) can demonstrate many of the following characteristics:
– Intellectual disability and difficulties problem solving
– Poor communication skills; inappropriate social interactions
– Difficulties in motor coordination and focusing attention
– Physical health issues including sleep and gastrointestinal issues
– “Non-typical” social behaviors – including “stimming” or rocking
– Often fixate on something (trains, puppies, cards)
– Many individuals who have disabilities will often “act out” or “misbehave” when they become overwhelmed or overstimulated.

With children who have mental disabilities, it is important to understand that there is a difference in a temper-tantrum and a melt-down. Children who have a temper-tantrum are seeking to control those around them. A melt-down is when a child cannot control their own thoughts/feelings and can result in outbursts or a complete “shut-down.” Kids with special needs sometimes cannot stay seated or quiet.

Q: How should we react to a child/person with Autism or other disability?
As a community, we can increase our understanding and be more sensitive to families struggling to provide services to their children. Families wish to be part of the community without being looked upon with pity or even possibly disdain.
– Be happy when the they are happy.
– Be patient when they are overwhelmed.
– Don’t try to force physical touch or eye contact.
– Don’t judge or criticize the parenting of the child.
– Support and encourage the parents/caretakers – they often feel very tired.
– Understand that special needs families are afraid of leaving the house – and especially fearful of coming to church.
Q: But, I don’t know of anyone with autism/mental illness.
Chances are that you do. There are several children in our church that have been diagnosed with various mental illnesses including autism. They “look normal” and often can “act normal” for short periods of time. When a child is “misbehaving” take a second before reacting and try to show compassion and support.