Signs of Autism

Due to a combination of factors (see this old post about the HOPE Relay), we have a special place in our hearts for families who have children with special needs. With family members, friends, and our church, we want to love and support those parents and children.

We have had the opportunity to communicate our heart (and proclaim God's love) in these situations, not just to those families affected, but to others as well. In particular, I enjoyed the conversation I had with my son last year, as I was able to explain autism to him, on a level he could understand.

Sometimes, engaging families who have children with special needs is easy, especially when they let you know about the situation. But what do you do when the child exhibits autistic tendencies, but you don't know if he has been diagnosed? (This situation will be touchier in the future, since a New Autism Definition Could Exclude Many.)

I have been involved in a number of situations like this, whether in our church or with the after school program. Sometimes, these children have a diagnosis (like those with ADHD and Emotional Self-Control issues). Other times, we suspected that there was something not being caught by parents, doctors, and/or the school. We want to come alongside the family, and give them the support they need.

Here are some principles that have helped us as we came alongside these families:
  1. Pray. Realize that these families need wisdom, peace, and strength that can only come from the Lord.
  2. Don't diagnose. The last thing a parent wants to hear (especially from a non-professional like me) is, "Does your child have autism or something?" (Yes, I know a church children's leader who said this to a parent, in a public situation.)
  3. Don't generalize. Talk in specific behavioral actions, instead of descriptions. Don't say things like, "He is very wild, and has bad behavior." Explain specific concerns.
  4. Offer support. Instead of giving your opinion of what the parent should do, ask, "What can I do to help you and your child?" Put the burden on yourself.
  5. Sympathize. While you may not be able to truly empathize, try to understand the stress that the family may be under.
I also encourage you to check out this three-part series from The Inclusive Church. In these posts, Amy Fenton Lee answers the question, "What do you do when a child shows signs of autism?"
  1. Part 1.  Common Questions.
  2. Part 2.  Approach with Caution.
  3. Part 3.  Principles for the Approach.
 image courtesy of BLW Photography via flickr

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