Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children
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Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children. Autism Awareness: How the church can be prepared. Meet the Higgins. Melanie Michaela Kelli Chris. Michaela 8 years old, 3 rd grade Autism Spectrum Disorder: Higher-functioning

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Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children

Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children.

Autism Awareness: How the church can be prepared


Meet the higgins

Meet the Higgins

MelanieMichaelaKelliChris


Who are we

Michaela8 years old, 3rdgradeAutism Spectrum Disorder: Higher-functioning

Hypersensitive to sounds and smells. Very energetic. Academically at grade level. “Mainstreamed” among neuro-typical children. Loves “My Little Pony” and rockets.

Melanie4 years old, developmental pre-schoolAutism Spectrum Disorder

Hyposensitive: high pain tolerance. Pre-verbal. Eating difficulties (overstuffs). Very curious and loves to bounce, figure out puzzles, use the iPad, play with dolls and “My Little Pony.”

WHO ARE WE?


What is autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills along with sensory issues.

With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. 

What is Autism?


The autism spectrum

The Autism Spectrum


What is autism1

  • 1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosedwith autism.

  • Children with autism often experience the world around themdifferently.

    • Sensory problems (such as hyper-sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity) can cause difficulties in adapting to the environment.

    • Loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, hot and cold sensations

WHAT IS AUTISM?


Perspective

Perspective:


Typical behaviors of a child with autism

  • Stimming

    • repetitive motions or sounds used to self-sooth during stressful situations. (swaying, fidgeting, spinning, jumping, bouncing, vocalizations, etc.)

  • Placing hands over ears

  • Extreme reaction to touch or loud noises

  • Running and wandering

  • Unresponsive to verbal commands

  • Problems with recognizing social cues

  • Have a hard time expressing needs and wants

  • Easily overwhelmed

Typical Behaviors of a Child with Autism


Typical behaviors of a child with autism1

Meltdowns: they’re not just tantrums!

Typical Behaviors of a Child with Autism


The behaviors of parents

Often anxious of entering uncontrolled or new environments

Experience worry of “judgment” from others

Worry that their children are a “burden” to others

Embarrassment when their child(ren) acts-out or experiences a meltdown around others

Sometimes feels isolated

The “Behaviors” of Parents


Stories

Why parents of children with autism feel they can/cannot become part of a church or faith community.

Stories


What can we do

Ideas and resources on how to become a welcoming community of faith to special-needs families.

What Can we do?


Understanding

Parents of children with autism often feel “pitied” or “patronized”

“They’ll be OK” is not reassuring!

Listen – many parents sometimes just need a friendly ear.

Oftentimes help is needed, but parents may be afraid to ask. It’s OK to ask the parent if they need help with something.

Understanding


Education for the congregation

  • Publish monthly articles in your newsletter.

  • Give Sunday School teachers resources on how to handle children with autism and other special needs children.

    • There are many groups and organizations that provide free training.

  • Provide autism information brochures or bulletin inserts for members

Education for the Congregation


Creating a comfortable space

  • Reach out to families with special needs.

  • Offer to allow the families to bring their children to the building during quiet times. (during the week)

  • Be sure to ask if the families have concerns or special requirements.

    • Special diets, avoiding triggers, using sensory toys, using visual cues (PECS storyboards)

  • Reassure families that they are always welcome!

Creating a Comfortable Space


Comfortable spaces worship

  • Be aware of noise from music, organ, choirs, sound systems can overstimulate.

    • Provide sound-reducing headphone to help with noises

    • If possible, create a “cry room” or other quiet space that includes a volume-controlled audio feed of worship

  • Be aware of smells from flowers and candles.

  • Changes in décor.

Comfortable Spaces: Worship


Comfortable spaces worship1

Crowded spaces: special worship services (Christmas, Easter, large rooms,lobbies, etc.)

Routine: provide a “regular” seat or location for families, if requested.

Routine: changes in worship orders can cause anxiety

Using props (especially noisy!) during children’s moments/worships.

Comfortable Spaces: Worship


Comfortable spaces worship2

The best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation:

A simple heads-up on changes in worship, decorations, or the use of louder or unusual sounds can make the world of difference in how children with autism react to certain situation and stimuli.

Comfortable Spaces: Worship


Environment

  • Provide basic sensory toys in the nursery or education areas

    • stress balls, weighted lap pads, various textures

  • Be aware of extreme over stimulating areas of the church

    • sights, sounds, smells, crowds, etc.

  • Provide a space for parents to take their children if they need a “sensory break.”

    • a simple, quiet room is best for this!

Environment


Safety

This prevents many parents of children with autism from attending church regularly.

Do a “safety audit” – make sure basic child safety guidelines are being observed

Keep outside doors closed – especially those leading to parking lots or streets.

An adult needs to be with autistic children at all times – unless otherwise specified by a parent.

Safety


Comfortable spaces sunday school

  • Routine is key!

  • Give prompts (“5 minutes left!” “2 minutes until it’s time to put away the craft.”)

    • Visual timers are also a great way to keep children with autism on-task.

  • Ask parents for routines and methods used at home or school.

  • Have “breaks” or “calm-down” space available.

Comfortable Spaces: Sunday School


Comfortable spaces sunday school1

Some children with autism may need one-to-one assistance.

Many organizations have programs available to train volunteers, Sunday School teachers, and staff on how to manage and assist a child with autism.

Always include children with autism in regular class activities, when possible.

Provide a “reserved” seat for children with autism to help encourage routine.

Comfortable Spaces: Sunday School


Comfortable spaces sunday school2

Again, the best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation:

A simple heads-up on changes in Sunday school routine, redecorated or refurnished rooms, new room assignments, and new curriculum can make a big difference in how a child with autism reacts to new situations.

Comfortable Spaces: Sunday School


Sensory rooms

  • Quiet spaces, simple, comfortable

  • No bright colors or patterns or murals

  • Controllable lighting: dimmers, soft

  • Provide sensory toys and ways parents can help calm children that are overstimulated

    • tunnels, bean bags, rocking chairs, manipulative objects, swing, lap pad, weighted blankets

  • Provide a volume-controlled audio feed from the worship so parents don’t feel “left out” of the experience.

Sensory Rooms


Sensory room

Sensory Room


Resources

Autism Society of Indianawww.autismsocietyofindiana.org“Allies” are a great resource on education and how to start the process of your congregation becoming special-needs friendly.

Easter Seals Crossroadswww.eastersealscrossroads.orgRespite: giving caretakers breaks. “Parent's Day Out”

Autism Speakswww.autismspeaks.orgGeneral information and national/local advocacyas well as information for faith-based organizations.

Local Autism Support Groups

Resources


Autism awareness how the church can be prepared

www.lifeslittlepuzzle.com

facebook.com/lifeslittlepuzzle

twitter.com/lifeslittlepuzl


Questions discussion

If you would like a copy of this presentation and the resources referenced in today’s session, please leave us your e-mail and we will be happy to send you more information.

Questions & Discussion


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