Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Is Autism?

Autism is a processing disorder. Well, I don't know that I would call it a disorder anymore, now that the latest statistics are out. It seems that autism is more prevalent than what was originally though. And I know many people that seem like they have tendencies that are similar to autism. So let me back up. Autism is a different way of processing things. Let me try it this way.

You have a PC. I have a Mac (not yet, but I will one day). The bottom line operating system, though both might be able to run windows, the hardware is different. So they have to have programs that are compatible with their hardware. They now have Word for both PC and Mac. They are more compatible now than they used to be. But the platform on which they run is different. 

Okay, another example. 

Define glove. You would probably be satisfied to say it is a covering for the hand. But my filing cabinet in my brain says, what kind of glove? I have it broken down by function. By the generalized definition, I now have a mismatch. A mitten covers the hand, but it is not a glove. An oven mitt covers the hand, but it is not a glove. My blanket can cover my hand. Does that make my blanket a glove? No.... It is a blanket. Maybe a better way to define glove is something that covers the hand for some purpose but it has fingers. My mom said a baseball mitt would not be a glove. I said there are fingers inside of it. It is also sometimes called a baseball glove. But that is one of the ways that my brain is different than your brain.

Here is something I have heard a lot, but this morning I heard it again. If you see a person in a wheelchair, you know they need a ramp. But the problem is, you cannot see autism. Therefore, it is hard to know that someone is having trouble and how to help them. But I want to give an example based on something I experienced. This church sent me for testing to see if I had autism. Of course, that also meant they received a copy of the report. After they learned that I have autism, I got bullied by two of the people who were on the care team they placed me under. And they intentionally began to exclude me from participating in things rather than to find ways to include me. They used the autism as an excuse to exclude me. They used the autism as an excuse to isolate me. It was like they were afraid that the autism might be contagious or something. The one man said they tried to say they were trying to mainstream me and that it failed. No.... Excluding someone is not mainstreaming them. Therefore, attempts to mainstream me did not fail because there were no attempts to mainstream me. Mainstream means to include with or without reasonable accommodations. An accommodation for a person with autism might be as simple as a buddy. Someone who is identified and appointed as a person in an activity who can be trusted to not only understand about the way autism might impact the individual but also interaction with others and can run interference should a problem arise by assisting in appropriately removing the person from the setting that is becoming upsetting and taking them to a calming place. What they should have done rather than what they did was to talk to me about what I wanted or needed and not exclude me from anything. What he should have done when he recognized and acknowledged that what they were doing was wrong was stand up and say hey, wait a minute, we need to regroup and problem solve. But you see, too often, most places are doing it wrong. They do not SEE the autism or the ADHD or whatever other invisible handicap or disability exists and they either pass us over or they ignore us or they pretend we don't exist. Or they go the other way and they bully us until we get frustrated enough to give up. But the thing is, we canNOT give up or they will continue to bully us thinking that it is okay for them to do so because no one stood up against them for doing it. 

People with autism do not lack empathy. This is a common assumption that is made. We have empathy. We may not understand from the cognitive perspective why someone feels something, but we do feel what others feel. Remember my filing cabinet? That is where I have everything stored. If I have experienced it, it is in there. It is my reference for how to respond or react or handle things. If I am missing something then it is because no one has helped me acquire the right tool yet or the right data. I am supposed to start using signals. Signals to help people know when I have had enough. Because sometimes when I become overloaded, I cannot think clearly and therefore I cannot verbalize things well. Those signals are sometimes called cues. And sometimes I need a lot of cues.

I will ask this question a lot because I am in anticipation that by the time I send my letter that is overdue that I will have enough resources to share with the recipient(s) that they can and will end up saying yes to having a meeting to talk through things and to negotiate restoration and reconciliation. But what is your church doing to intentionally reach out to people like me who may be isolated in our very own communities because people do not understand autism or do not seem to want to understand autism? If they are not doing something, they need to. Matthew 25:31-46 is the main justification for being intentional in ministry and support to people like me and my mother who also has autism. After all, Jesus spent most of His time with the sick and the poor, so should not the churches also be doing that?

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. It is everywhere. Some countries are not in as good of a position to get support systems in place. And America is lacking in support systems for adults with autism. It needs to change fast because the children will be transitioning into adults and will still need support.

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