It’s Sunday morning, all twelve of the children are here, and it’s time for our bible lesson. Our normal procedure is to remind the children that what we are learning about God today is from His word and His word is the bible. We then pray and the children are instructed to fold their hands in their laps. “Why do we put our hands in our laps?” I ask, “So we can listen and not fool with our friends” they repeat. The children understand through training and direction that this is an important time because we are hearing about God from His word. Ah, the beauty of discipline and order, thank you Lord.
Now is everything every Sunday always so orderly? No, but with the occasional gentle reminder or taking a seat next to the helper the children listen and even respond to the lesson. I love order it gives me peace yet I wonder what about the child who is not trained, or more importantly, the one who cannot learn like the others? Lord how I do as an ambassador of Jesus love and teach a child who, because of abilities beyond his control, cannot sit still. How do I have order in the class which is good and still love, encourage and minister to a child whose world I do not understand? How do I love and come along side the family of a child who has autism?
As of yet, God has not been pleased to bless me with a child with autism, yet I have learned that autism effects 1 out of 150 children ages 10 and younger. The signs of autism become most evident by the time a child is three. I teach three and four year olds so the possibilities of ministry in this area are good. I do not desire to be an autism expert, or do research for a cure, this is a passion that the Lord has fitted someone else for. What I desire is to show Jesus to the child who is affected by autism and his family. I want to be equipped to love with the same tender mercy our God has shown me.
So, with eagerness, I attended a session through Children Desiring God on “Disability, Autism, and the Tender Mercy of Our God”. In this session, led by Brenda Fischer, I learned many practical ways to help a child with autism and some very technical terms for useful equipment such as “green squishy thing” and pencil twirlers. You see children with autism need help in concentrating and the “green squishy thing”, which is a squeezable ball thingy with bumps, helps the child pay attention. He squeezes this thing and is more relaxed, increasing the ability to hear the lesson. Also, pencil twirlers help with this. Brenda assured us, through experience, that after a few weeks the other children just accept what may seem like distractions and no longer notice them.
Music can be a difficult time for some autistic children, so she recommends head sets that muffle sound for them during worship so they do not become overly agitated. The most important things we need to minister to these children and their families are humble
hearts willing to serve and show love. She reminded us that it is not our job to diagnose or offer solutions to parents, but to be supportive with prayers and deeds. An important service in the classroom is a helper specifically assigned to the child who can help the child adapt and be as much a part of the class as is possible for them. This wonderful servant needs to be included in the teamwork that goes on in a class. We as a people need to be willing to invite them into our lives and to be a part of their lives.
As Brenda spoke I began to see that there was no magic formula to serving the disabled or autistic there was God working in and through His people for His good purposes and if He is pleased to bring families into my life who are effected by autism, by His work and grace, I can show them Jesus.
God has given us a solid foundation at MDF through the faithful teaching of His word to equip us for “such a time as this” if He so blesses. We, my dear sisters, have been richly equipped to offer hope to families in a world that is filled with pain and despair, by allowing the beauty of the gospel to dwell in us and mark out how we live. We can bind the wounds of the hurting and speak peace to troubled hearts, not because our speech is eloquent, or we have logical arguments or superior intellect, but because we have Jesus.
So I ask you to join with me in prayer that God be pleased to bring us into the lives of the wounded and that we willingly love them and serve them so that the world will see our good works and will glorify our Father in heaven.
By Shelly Smith