Archive for April 2018

Suffer The Little Children: Part IV in my Autism series, Updated   Leave a comment

So today I’m writing about experiences that people on the autism spectrum have had at churches around the United States.  Some people were children, one an adult when I talked with them about what it was like to attend church or youth group.

There was a general sense that other people just didn’t know how to interact, so sometimes families with people with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) were just left alone, and did not have any overtly negative experiences.  One respondent told me that her son had a very positive experience at the church they were currently attending.  People were accepting of differences, and the congregation was friendly.  At this church, the pastor had a grandchild on the spectrum, which she said made him more understanding and inclusive.  At two other mega-churches they attended before the family found this small Southern Baptist church, their son was directed to the special needs department, which he did not need as a high functioning individual.  This lack of understanding of his actual situation seemed patronizing to him and he would not go back to that church.

Another mother, Shelly, met personally with people in leadership roles in three different churches to explain her child’s situation.  Her older teen-aged son is a talented musician who wanted to get involved by playing in the worship team.  They agreed to include him in the band.  However, when some difficulties arose in getting all the musicians in sync, instead of spending the additional time it might have taken to help him get up to speed with the band, the leader decided this young man on the spectrum was too much trouble, and he was asked to leave.  Shelly also found out later that the pastor had said unkind things about her son during a church leader’s meeting.

In a different situation, as she moved up from the middle school group, Kimberly’s daughter Julie found the high school scene to be focused on socializing and the teens who were leading the worship music.  The environment was supportive of the musical talent of these kids, leading them to rise to the top in what quickly became a popularity contest, and girls and guys who had previously been Julie’s friends in the middle school group began to ignore her.

When Kimberly met with the youth group leader to explain about Asperger’s, he wanted to assign another girl to be her friend, but Kimberly said Julie would see right through that.  She suggested instead that he create more structure for the group meetings, as she knew there were other introverted teens who were having a hard time with the long periods of unsupervised small talk and general chaos.  His response was that the majority liked the arrangement as it was, and as the group was growing quickly, Julie would just have to get used to the way things were.  Due to all the factors that were making youth group overwhelming for Julie, Kimberly decided to let her stop attending.  Then she was criticized by other parents in the church for not requiring her daughter to attend.  The family eventually left this church for one that was much smaller, where they are happy.

Most of these situations while hurtful, were not overtly dangerous.  Unfortunately, having autism apparently does put you in literal danger.  Marie left her three-year-old in the church nursery.  He was found walking along the road outside the church by people who happened by and brought him back in.  The reason?  The male nursery worker let him leave the room because he had “had enough.”  I’m not sure what behaviors a three-year-old could exhibit that would justify “releasing him into the wild” to fend for himself.

Marie also had a younger son knocked down and kicked in the head during another church’s children’s program.  No adults intervened, and when she let the leadership know, they didn’t take any action.  In both of these cases, nobody was concerned, let alone apologetic.  I’d like to provided more commentary, but on this one, I’m speechless.

The church seems to have a hard time with anybody being different.  I think this problem extends far beyond the world of ASDs.  No room is left for people to be different and for people to be loved as they are.  If you don’t raise your hands occasionally during the songs, get into the music and smile at everyone, and if you aren’t comfortable holding hands during group prayer, you are criticized as being un-Christian.  Yes, a pastor actually told the congregation from the pulpit that if you did not join hands with others, you were un-Christian.  There’s a very small grain of truth to that–but it doesn’t take into account other realities.  It dismisses the challenges those with ASDs face every day.

If a person has extreme social anxiety or a physical condition which would prevent her from holding hands during a group prayer time, this would probably be understood.  The same consideration should always be extended to any person who is worshiping in a congregation.  Consider that for people on the spectrum, sensory input or a change in routine can be overwhelming, and these challenges can be something as simple as your talking to her while she is worshiping, or asking her to move out of her accustomed spot.  These are concerns that neurotypical people often are not aware of.  But now you know–large group gatherings can be a literal minefield for other minds.

Your feelings may get hurt by what you think is odd behavior, but the focus should be honoring the needs and feelings of the other person.  Your ideas about what is socially acceptable behavior may be upset, but what is important is that members of the body of faith experience the grace and peace the church exists to share.

Love the person as he is and where he is.  Continue to acknowledge the person even when you don’t seem to be getting a response; smile when you see him; ask how he is.  Over time, your consistent love and kindness will be rewarded.  There are many valid reasons why a person may not be either able or willing to do exactly as the majority of the church body is doing during worship.  These reasons should not keep a person from being loved, valued and included.



Posted April 18, 2018 by swanatbagend in autism, the church

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Calling   Leave a comment

When I was a teenager, and a young married, I felt at a loss as to what my calling was.  I had a high school diploma.  I earned a college degree.  I even got a master’s degree, and I was teaching English composition at a community college.  I was also married, playing piano at church, doing some freelance writing, but I still felt lost, like I wasn’t there,  as if I hadn’t fully arrived at my calling.  This was despite the fact that I was using the gifts I knew I had in fulfilling both a vocation and an avocation.

Only now, twenty years later, do I have more understanding of what I’m good at.  I feel more at ease with who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

But I do know more about what compels me, and what will drive whatever I do, as I figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  I learned through experiences with unwanted and unnecessary cesareans how much suffering is perpetuated on women and their infants in the name of safety and health.  I learned through postpartum depression how alone and how horrible someone can feel.  I learned through parenting spirited children how much practical support and encouragement a mother can need.  I learned when my eyes were opened to all the differences of ability around me, how much God adores every one of his children.  I saw how labels, while perhaps necessary, don’t fully do individuals justice.

Precisely because of the events that happened to me, I was given a desire to nurture and support others.  I gained the motivation to help mothers survive well because I experienced why that mattered.  I resonate with the outcasts because I’ve seen the view through the eyes of some outsiders.  I have compassion on the anxiety and despair some people endure because I lived that myself.

I don’t know exactly what the job title is; I just know this is what I’m doing.

I couldn’t have created this desire, this plan, out of nowhere when I was twenty-four years old.  It came from trips through the fire.

So if you are younger, and feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, and that what you’re experiencing right now isn’t taking you anywhere, think again.  It’ll come; trust me, it’ll come.

Posted April 13, 2018 by swanatbagend in identity

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The Best Way to Learn a Subject   Leave a comment

When a child has trouble with a subject at school or difficulty learning to read, what is the go-to way to address the problem?

When a person wants to learn to play a musical instrument, how is that usually accomplished?

When a high school student wants to up her chances of doing really well on a particular AP exam or getting the best score on college admissions tests, how does she go about doing so (aside from studying hard)?

The answer to all the previous questions is simple.  You get a tutor.  You get a teacher.   Repeat.

When you’re evaluating a school or college what is one fact the admissions office always wants you to know, especially if their statistic is especially impressive?  It’s that student/teacher ratio–the lower, the better.

Everyone knows that a one-on-one session is the best way for a person to learn a new subject or get the help he needs to truly understand and move forward in his studies.  And, when there are too many students in a class, it is generally agreed this is an obstacle to effective teaching.  Parents will start fretting if they find out their children are going to be in a classroom with a large number of other students.

So, if that is all true, why is there still resistance to one-on-one, one-on-two, one-on-three teaching?  Why is there concern that students in these tutoring environments are somehow getting shortchanged or even damaged?

If tutoring is the gold standard, the best way to remediate a knowledge shortage, why isn’t it crystal clear that homeschooling meets that criteria?

Posted April 11, 2018 by swanatbagend in learning

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Telescoping   Leave a comment

Have you ever returned to a place you lived in the past and felt as if you just walked back in with no elapsed time passed?

I came of age in Oklahoma and after many years’ absence, I traveled to Kansas and Oklahoma a week ago.  I spent time both in Tulsa, where I went to college, and in Oklahoma City, where my mother grew up and where I spent time as an adolescent.  I went back to my grandparents’ house and the friend who drove me there took pictures of me there, standing on the edge of the yard in front of my memories.

I came every summer to spend a few days or a week with my grandparents.  We’d go to the library, the farmer’s market, go for walks.  Those times were valued by me, even then, when as a child, I really didn’t know to value the times.  I can still hear the sound of the upstairs house fan running and the sound of the traffic clicking and thumping over the road joints on Northwest 19th street, as I fell asleep in the hot humidity to the song of the cicadas.  I have memories of that house and my time there dating back to the 70’s.

As I traveled around Oklahoma City and then went on to Tulsa, after 27 years of being away, I found that I did still know my way around town.  I was able to drive myself to the first house my husband and I bought, even though I hadn’t seen it for 27 years and we only lived there nine months before we had to move.  It really had not changed that much.  Nor had my ability to navigate in my past.

Of course, the years had changed me quite a bit.  There’s a long road between being twenty-three and being fifty.

After I was back home, eating breakfast one morning, I felt as if the past were catching up with me.

Going back to a place you knew and loved starting forty years earlier has this effect.  You realize that it has been long–and yet not long.

I saw myself as a child in the arms of my mother and father.

I saw myself as an old woman hoping for a visit from my children because they have just told me I cannot safely drive to visit them.

I saw myself as I am now.   Do you remember the Star Trek Next Generation episode about the Mannheim effect?  Data deals with the effects of temporal distortions due to Mannheim’s experiments with time.  As he experiences himself in the future and the past, he must determine which Data is the present one.  In the same way, I could raise my hand and say, it’s me, but the past me and the future me are also me.

All those “me’s” started telescoping down into the one moment.

They are much closer together than I had thought.


Posted April 8, 2018 by swanatbagend in identity

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Entitlement   Leave a comment

Do you have entitlement issues?

Think of King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel.  He looked out at his kingdom and empire.  Everything had gone swimmingly so far.  He had no reason to think things would change.  He had no reason to revise his world view.  He was completely unaware that everything he believed about himself was wrong.

Daniel’s initial warning that he must turn away from his pride and arrogance was no more than the buzzing of a fly in the throne room.  It wasn’t comprehended as something significant.  How could it be?  Nebuchadnezzar had never known anything other than his own wealth and power, as natural as the sun rising and the river flowing downhill.  What could possibly divert the flow of the river or stop the sun from powering the earth?  How incomprehensible is a change of fortune!

He was the king, placed there by fortune, and confident in his own right to rule and reign.

And yet, everything he knew was overthrown.

So, entitlement issues.

I’d heard of the younger generation having those.  I’d heard that the demanding, muling, puking, younger generation thought it deserved an easy life, a fun life.  They say Generation X and Y have no tolerance for waiting and hard work.  I gathered some people think that benefits in life that are earned should be handed to them.  I’ve observed people who are inconsiderate of others in the pursuit of their own comfort.  I’ve seen adults behave in childish ways when things don’t go as they planned.

Of course, I am not one of those people.

I got aggravated when my grocery store somehow deleted our alternate ID so that when my husband did $200 of grocery shopping for me but forgot his discount card, he couldn’t get the discount.  That’s crazy they can’t keep their computer systems functioning normally so I can get the discounts I depend on.

I got aggravated when colds, flu and other fatiguing health issues plagued our family over the last six weeks.  Honestly, when it is going to end?  It’s not like I haven’t been washing my hands like crazy and feeding everyone really healthy food.

I got aggravated at the colleges who admitted my daughter, the ones who keep sending her and us recruiting letters telling us how fantastic their programs are.  You could paper a wall with them.  One even sent her a pair of socks–she’s supposed to go watch an online video to understand that one.  I can’t believe that while they claim she deserves their glorious educational programs, they aren’t funding the bottom line.

I’ve been the one who finds the words, “So, are we having fun yet?” coming out of my mouth.


I read about Nebuchadnezzar, and instead of thinking what a moron the guy is, I am starting to identify with him.


Posted April 5, 2018 by swanatbagend in identity, reality

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