Respecting neurodiversity means not starting with an assumption of what people want or need. Christian discipleship always happens within a specific context. Start with the people who are present and adjust the practices accordingly. It is more complicated than a standard way of discipleship but it is a way that respects that different ways God has created us. …
At eight years old I was diagnosed with autism. The educational specialists and doctors informed my parents that I would probably never read beyond a seventh grade level, attended college, or have a career. My mom was determined to prove the experts wrong by developing my unique gifts. As Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve kings. He won’t serve obscure men.” For me to develop my skills and be a minister I had to overcome five main autism quirks. …
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
~Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
I have a physical disability and as a child I spent some time wishing that I could be just like everyone else because I did not fully understand the value of diversity and differences. I did however understand the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street. It taught me many things including colors, counting, directions and even computer skills. I also remember being thrilled when a child in a wheelchair made a guest appearance on the TV show.
As increasing numbers of children are affected by autism, I am especially thankful that Sesame Street is now incorporating Julia, a character with autism. The sentiment that Julia likes to play, she just may play a little differently underscores the biblical truth that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, regardless of ability or “disability.” through the character of Julia and her friend Elmo, Sesame Street will help many children to understand some mannerisms of many people who have autism and offer communication strategies. It is hoped that this will diminish bullying of children with exceptional needs. I think it will also promote the biblical value of embracing differences and foster a greater variety of peer relationships.
For now, Julia is an online-only character featured in the storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3” but that doesn’t prevent her and the numerous resources posted at the site “Sesame Street and Autism” (autism.sesamestreet.org) from being in a kid’s ministry setting! “Being a Friend” “Explaining Autism to Young Children” and “What to Say to A Parent of a Child with Autism” provide key tips, and a number of videos like “Nasaiah’s Day,” “A Parent’s Role” or “A Sibling Story” can help children’s ministry volunteers become familiar with the experiences of families of kids with autism.
Thanks, Sesame Street for striving to “see amazing in all children,” and helping to contextualize such an important biblical truth, that is, the value of embracing differences. As people of faith, may we be reminded that God sees amazing in all children as well as in all people. Further, may this be cause for the church to celebrate the different gifts of every person.
For more information, read the Atlantic article, “Sesame Street’s New Brand of Autism Education” or watch the following video (this may be useful in a Sunday School setting as well!):