For almost two years now, students and their families have experienced interruptions with their educational timetables, due to a number of COVID-related lockdowns. Naturally, these changes were unexpected and caused much uncertainty because little was known about the virus. Suddenly, the lives, routines, and levels of independence we were accustomed to had to be adjusted as our understanding and awareness of the virus progressed.
In the context of a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), keeping a routine and structure is particularly important. When changes are required, advance notice can oftentimes help to prevent unnecessary stress and anxiety. Understandably, though, advance preparation is not always possible. However, making at least provisional plans to prepare a person with ASD for the new academic year (2021/2022) is vital, while awaiting government guidance regarding the easing of restrictions.
ASD is an umbrella term that, according to the DSM-5 Manual* (2013), consists of the following neurodevelopmental disorders:
• Autism Disorder
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
• Catch-all diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS).
Furthermore, people on the Autism Spectrum are commonly associated with difficulties in their social communication and interaction, and also with restricted and repetitive interests or behaviours. These will vary from individual to individual, depending on the diagnosis and where they are classified on the spectrum.
Estimates suggest there are approximately 700,000 people (1 in 100) in the UK with ASD, and they all come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Nevertheless, in terms of ASD, the data and research on the lived experiences of families from Black and multi-ethnic backgrounds are limited. One reason for this is the lack of approaches and support that are sensitive to people’s heritage and cultural identity.
Here, then, is an opportunity for Black and multi-ethnic Christian communities to follow the instructions of Romans 15:7 (NLT): “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” First and foremost, we should try to see everyone as Christ does, by loving each person regardless of their situation, and knowing that the power of prayer is the foundation for all relationships. This should then be backed up with accessible (strategic plan) and practical applications (support).
Supporting a person on the Autism Spectrum and their family can include the following steps:
• getting to know about ASD, by making use of free charitable services and scholarly research papers available
• identifying the experts within your Christian community – for example, teachers, mentors or doctors
• creating a survey to identify the affected children and young people within your own congregation (if not already done)
• asking families about the services they have access to outside of their educational establishments, and considering potential collaborations
• asking how you as an organisation can play a role in supporting the family within the Christian organisation context, eg. making exemptions so the child does not need to queue to be signed in for children’s church
• committing to pray for the families, because ‘the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person has great power’ (James 5:16)
• staying up to date on government guidelines for returning to school
• encouraging families to prepare students to go back to school during the summer holidays, by including fun educational activities in their daily routines
(*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used in the US. In the UK, we use the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases)
Written by: Natalie Downs