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Monday, April 11, 2005

April is Autism Awareness Month - Day 9 & 10

As I have been making these posts I have been working off of a list of ideas that I had brain-stormed. The list contains themes that I feel every non-autistic parent/person should know. The problem, I don't just want to write about topics... I want to share my passion. I need to feel moved to share my experiences, that is what today's posts are all about...

About a year ago our family began attending Ridge Point Community Church. Prior to this time we had not been attending Church so this would be a new experience for the boys. When we registered the boys I made sure that they knew that Joshua was Autistic. Joshua and Mitchell spent time in a Sunday School setting while we, along with Kris attended the service. It was a good situation for all.

One night I get a call from the head of the Children's Ministry. She was concerned about Joshua and how he was doing at Church. I probably took on a defensive attitude but felt like there was always a fight where Joshua was concerned. She suggested putting him in the nursery instead of the classroom. I took a moment to digest and to keep myself from saying something I would regret and simply said, "No". I went on to explain that if we put Joshua in the nursery we would be setting up the routine that he always went to the nursery. On top of that I felt the expectation was below his capability.

We continued to talk and I got a lesson I will never forget. When you tell someone your child is Autistic you typically get one of two reactions. Either they ask questions and want to understand what it means to be autistic or they write off that child and think to themselves 'Well, I won't expect much from him'. I had made the assumption that people would ask questions when they didn't know or understand something. That's not the case. Without meaning too, they had set the expectations so low for Joshua that they were now having behavior problems.

I couldn't blame them. I should have educated them but I thought everything was good. Now she is telling me that he won't sit for story time, he isn't doing the craft projects and he is disruptive. Even though he is not yet 4, something is not right here. I explain to her that Joshua has been going to school full time for almost a year and he does all of those things and more at his school. After some time I figured out that they had never expected him to do any of those things and, in my opinion, Joshua lived up to the expectation.

The question became what do we do now? We were asked to commit to attending one service. Our Church has 3 identical services... 6pm Saturday, 9am and 11am Sunday. We for the most part were coming on Saturday but attended Sunday if we were unable to be there Saturday. I committed to Saturday because it was the best for Joshua and Kris. At that time Saturday services were smaller and it was a lot less stressful for both of the boys.

The head of Children's Ministry wanted to have an aid for Joshua and though I was not against it I had a different idea. I recommended a visit from Joshua's current school. They could come in and help them to understand how to motivate Joshua to do what they were expecting. She was willing to try it but seemed to really want an aid. I simply asked that we try this and see how it goes. That's where we left it.

A week or so later Joshua's teacher from Ottawa Area Center came to the rescue! Linda attended a service and though I don't know exactly what she did, I haven't received anymore phone calls. Joshua started bringing home crafts and when I ask him now what he learned at Church he tells me. He even came home this past weekend talking about another boys in his class, Conner.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that we should not make assumptions about a person's capabilities. It does no service to our kids to not set the same expectations as the neurotypical (non autistic) child. They may need accommodations made but then again, they may surprise you. Joshua has yet to back down from a challenge where his autism is concerned. Never sell them short, children don't know they can't do something until we tell them they can't.


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