Sensory-Friendly “Christmas Carol” (plus great ideas for church and school!)

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Special events abound during the holiday season…and this can sometimes pose a challenge for families affected by disabilities. Fortunately, some organizations are beginning to understand this dilemma…and they’re reaching out in some wonderful ways!

Here in Cleveland, the Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s production of “A Christmas Carol” provides cheer, exceptional acting and beautiful music. It’s a tradition many families enjoy as they usher in the Christmas season. However, attending a live theatre production of any kind can be overwhelming and distressing for kids with disabilities. The lights, loud music, and large space combine to set kids up for difficulty. In addition, going to a show may be an unfamiliar experience, stirring anxiety.

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This year, the theatre company is hosting a “Sensory-Friendly” Christmas Carol on Wednesday, November 27 at 11 am. According to the website, “for this special performance, accommodations will be made, including a supportive audience environment, designated quiet areas, (and) adjustments to light and sound.” In addition, several online resources have been created to help families prepare. These include a social story about going to see the play, a simplified, picture version of the story, and information about Charles Dickens.

Community Partners for this event are The Autism Theatre Initiative, Milestones Autism Organization, and the Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities.

This event can provide some great ideas for schools and churches during this season. When planning a large scale event, such as a Christmas Pageant or band concert, consider adding a social story or other information to the website, and alert families that this is available. By doing this, parents can help to prepare their children for what is coming, increasing the likelihood for success. In addition, securing a “quiet area” where students can take refuge and calm down can be helpful; mark this area prominently so that folks know it is available. Again, this sends a strong message that you want your guests to feel comfortable. Finally, consider offering a “quiet” option, when lights and sound are muted a bit. This can make the experience manageable, and help kids with special needs to remain calm so the whole family will enjoy their time together.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Sensory-Friendly Christmas Carol, click here.

Do you have ideas that would make this season welcoming for families affected by disabilities? Please share them in the comment section, or send me a message!

God Bless Us…every one.

~Katie

Photos courtesy aceshowbiz.com; Great Lakes Theatre Festival

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World Autism Awareness Day: We’re Equal

world autism awareness dayI’ve shared some of this story before…but it is too good to hide in the archives. Please enjoy a little wisdom from my friend, Jonathan.

A couple of years ago, I spent the day at the offices of Insight for Living to conduct some interviews with members of the Swindoll family for Inclusion Fusion. It was an absolute delight to get to know this group! We enjoyed some splendid discussions about disabilities, sibling relationships, grief and suffering. The highlight of my day, however, was my conversation with then-14-year-old Jonathan, the son of Colleen Swindoll-Thompson and grandson of Chuck and Cynthia Swindoll.

Jonathan was a featured speaker for Inclusion Fusion, and he has much insight and wisdom to share about the Church’s role in soothing broken hearts.

Jonathan has been “labeled” with complicated diagnoses as he has grown up. While these diagnoses help his teachers, therapists and family understand him and his needs, the label that most aptly describes him is “Child of the King.” This is a label he wears proudly, and because of this, he has much to teach.

I have “known” Jonathan for several years, as Colleen and I have been friends and colleagues, sharing our kids’ triumphs and struggles. Until our trip to Dallas, however, I had never actually met him. When he rounded the corner in the Insight offices, I knew right away that this long-anticipated moment had arrived.

“Jonathan!” I said. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I’m Katie.”

His bespectacled eyes regarded me, and he sized me up.

“We’re equal,” he said solemnly.

I smiled. “We are.” I slipped off my heels and said, “And now we’re even more equal!” He compared his height to mine, smiled and nodded and then off he went to find a spot to read.

We’re equal.

During our day at IFL, we adults talked a lot about God, suffering, prayer and theology. The discussions were enriching, and both stretched and comforted me. However, nothing that was said came close to inspiring me the way Jonathan’s statement did. In two words, he wrapped up 1 Corinthians 12 in a delightfully boyish and joyful package.

We’re equal. All of us…regardless of size or diagnosis or strengths or needs…and we’re all necessary to what God has planned for the Church.

I hope that the truth of Jonathan’s words will press us forward as we focus on awareness and understanding for friends and families affected by autism today….and every day.

Equally yours~

Katie

To listen to some of my interviews with the Swindoll family, please visit Steve Grcevich’s blog.

Amazing people {who happen to have autism}: Conversations with Carlyle

Last week, I introduced you to my friend, Carlyle King.

Over the past several months, Carlyle and I have worked together, through phone conversations, email and Facebook, to do some planning; he wanted help in starting an inclusion ministry at his local church. He is uniquely qualified to do this; Carlyle himself is on the autism spectrum.

Our first planning session was via Facebook instant-message. Carlyle shared his ideas for the first Sunday: He planned to attend church wearing a t-shirt that said, “I have autism and I think you’re weird, too.”

Inside, I felt a bit of panic. What if they think he’s being abrasive or flippant or unapproachable?

And God, in His infinite wisdom, probably giggled at that moment, and whispered, “Oh ye of little faith…” under His breath.

I gently posed my concerns to Carlyle, mentioning my penchant for diplomacy.

He replied, “I guess I’m not really sure why (the t-shirt) would be a problem…it’s actually true. From the perspective of someone with autism…(people who are “neurotypical”) are just as confusing to us as we are to them.” He continued, “I’ve tried the gentle approach. This (ministry) is getting started because I started showing people real examples and telling them it is wrong. My friend’s 16 year-old son has been repeatedly bullied at church. We finally told the senior pastor that this is plain wrong and needs to be fixed now.I have more stories, but ultimately, the only thing that has worked for me is being completely blunt.”

And then, Carlyle said something that broke my heart: “Maybe I’m not the right person to do this.”

We continued chatting. Carlyle had very wisely planned for several other friends to stand with him at church as he greeted people and began to talk about inclusion.
He said, “I’m hoping to surround myself with people that will do the talking for me. Like most Aspies, I can be intense, and people are guaranteed to misread me.”

Carlyle and I also decided that it would be helpful to have a handout that people could take home and read. (You can download this handout here: Handout: Autism). With these plans in place, Carlyle was ready to raise awareness about his inclusion ministry that very Sunday.

On Monday, I received this message Carlyle: “Not only did God open the door, but he rolled out the red carpet. Only one person had an issue with my shirt, and her issue really wasn’t my shirt. (She thought I was making fun of autism). After talking to me, she wants me to meet her grandson, who has autism.”

Soon, more exciting things happened in Carlyle’s ministry: “I have a family with a 13 year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. His mother is also on the spectrum. They stopped attending church due to how they were treated. She is a friend of mine and I’ve convinced her to fill out those forms you gave me for her son and to meet with the family ministries pastor.

“Also, something very interesting happened yesterday. When we were attending our previous church, there was a young woman studying children’s ministry that I tried to befriend. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me (then).  She suddenly friended me on Facebook yesterday and posted on my wall:

“Hi Carlyle I saw you yesterday didn’t get a chance to say hello It was good to see you. Just so you know I think you’re you starting an inclusion ministry is an answer to my prayers.I’ve been praying for more awareness of the diverse needs of people. Especially people with developmental disabilities.”

Several weeks later, Carlyle and I collaborated on a presentation that he gave to all of the adult Sunday School classes in his church. He then sent this message:

“Guess what?vI now have a ministry team including two psychologists, three counselors, two social workers, and a professor that teaches special ed. We have been asked to not only deliver the 15 minute talk you and I put together for Sunday School classes, but to develop in service training for church staff and volunteers.

“I still can’t believe that a team where half the people have more education than I is still looking at me as the leader!”

And I thought to myself…”I can believe it.”

Of all of the messages that Carlyle has sent, this is probably my favorite…

“(This past weekend) we went to a BBQ with some people from my new Sunday School class. They seem to genuinely like me and are eager to learn how they can be good friends for me…

That’s a big deal for me.”

Yes. It IS a big deal for Carlyle…
and a big deal for the Kingdom.

~Katie

Don’t forget to check out Carlyle’s blog!