About twelve years ago, I decided to help in my church's special needs Sunday school. The majority of the students had autism. I had zero experience, and quite honestly, I had no idea how to help. I was crippled with fear, because I didn't want to make a mistake. I chalked it up to, "I'm simply not made for this."
I couldn't more wrong!
Fast forward to student teaching at Zeeland Christian, a school which strongly advocates for inclusion. I had a sweet student in my class who had special needs. She made extraordinary contributions to the classroom, whether it was social, emotional, or academic. She was almost the glue to bind the whole class together. Students who had little tiffs would set aside their differences for her sake as they cooperated together to help her on the playground, during lunch, or while completing group projects. Students looked forward to helping her! Their faces lit up in her presence.
And why wouldn't they?! This shouldn't be shocking at all! People with special needs offer a beautiful and unique perspective on the world, one that is absolutely necessary. I had never experienced this before, because remember, I thought I simply wasn't made to help people with special needs. However, I truly believe God used that sweet student to propel me into one of my favorite aspects of teaching - differentiation.
I have found that people with autism are fully present in the moment. They bond strongly with certain people, and they fiercely love those people. Their smiles are genuine and full of joy. Their laughter is contagious. If you know someone with autism, loving them may look different, and their autism will present challenges unique to them and their preferences. It won't always be easy, and some days may be more difficult than others. The connections you make with them will be some of the most rewarding. Your heart will be touched and forever changed by knowing that individual.
If you would like to learn more about autism, you can visit the link below:
If you're in the Holland/Zeeland area of Michigan and would like to volunteer, you can always do so at Special Education Ministries of Holland (https://www.hollandsem.com/about.html) or Compassionate Heart Ministries (https://compheart.org/). Be aware, though, you're heart will never be the same! :)