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Special Blessings

Church plays a loving role in ministering to child with autism

“The biggest gamble you’ll ever take is when you have kids.” I’ve heard our minister, Gary Bradley, say it more than once from the pulpit of the Mayfair Church of Christ.

Why? Because “you never know how they’re going to turn out,” he says. He is right.

Views | Jana Miller

Joseph was our first child, and my husband Chris and I really didn’t keep up with the developmental milestones. At Joseph’s second birthday, our pediatrician suggested we check into his speech delay.

One of the first specialists we visited suggested that Joseph might have autism. We were floored. We knew absolutely nothing about autism, other than the movie “Rain Man.” We hoped to find some other diagnosis — anything but autism.
We endured a year of long waiting lists to see various specialists to determine the exact diagnosis. He also began early intervention services, including occupational therapy and speech therapy. 
When we finally received the confirmation that he had autism, it was one of the most difficult, soul-crushing times of our lives.
Five years have passed since that day. We have learned much more about autism, and we know that it is not a closed door. 
There is hope and there is help.
Autism spectrum disorders affect one in 68 people, usually males, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.
Autism usually results in impaired communication and social interaction along with repetitive behaviors. In Joseph’s case, he is mostly nonverbal, although he repeats certain words and phrases from TV shows. He can read, write and do math.
Sometimes people ask, “How do you know what Joseph wants since he can’t talk?” But I just know. He makes it pretty clear what he wants, even though he doesn’t use words. 
Our church family has been extremely understanding. Our elders have prayed for us on multiple occasions and asked what they can do to help. Our children’s minister, Randy Fowler, worked with us to create a Special Blessings class for Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Marilyn Torrice teaches, assisted by a group of loving volunteers. Now Joseph learns God’s Word in a classroom that accommodates his needs. Marilyn uses picture cards to prompt him through the various routines of class activities — including prayer time and crafts based on Bible verses.
Mayfair also offers a Parents Night Out for families who have children with special needs. We are grateful for this respite care. It is one of the most useful things that churches can do for the community, because it often is difficult and expensive to find care.
What means the most to me are the people who offer to pray for our family. 
I encourage my fellow Christians to welcome the families of special-needs children. I know it can be difficult to approach someone with a disability. People on the autism spectrum may have unexpected outbursts, cover their ears, or exhibit other unfamiliar behaviors. Ask them how best you can serve them. Show compassion. Be willing to learn new ideas and accept those with differences.
Always remember to watch what you say around people with autism. Whether or not they can speak, they usually understand what is being said. They share our feelings and emotions.
Joseph interacts with his younger brother Carson, age 4, in such a sweet and loving way as they play with blocks or have bath time together. Carson is typical and loves his big brother dearly. 
Chris is a full-time dad and is so patient with both of our boys. I don’t know how we would have done this without him. Chris takes Joseph to his speech therapy sessions and attends local autism workshops. His tireless support has enabled me to lead our local autism networking group, Making Connections, part of the Autism Society of Alabama.
My faith has grown stronger as I have learned to trust in the Lord, taking one day at a time and not worrying about the future. 
I am not sure what the future holds for Joseph. We want to give him the flexibility and support he needs to reach his full potential. God created each of us in his image, and everyone is special — especially those with special needs. I know that my purpose is to help Joseph and to help spread awareness and understanding for everyone affected by autism.
I love seeing Joseph smile, knowing that he’s happy. I know that he has a good time at church. When he draws, he always draws happy faces. 
That is pretty awesome.

and her family attend the Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ala.

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary Opinion Views

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