It's a dangerous thing indeed when I begin to discuss autism remediation theory. It's also dangerous when I attempt to discuss theology. Today, I'm going to attempt to do both, which might prove to be highly embarrassing or completely hysterical, or both! But what the heck! Come along for the ride!
On Sunday, our pastor continued his sermon series titled, Armed and Dangerous. This week he was teaching about the Full Armor of God, and specifically the "breastplate of righteousness". One point he made about the righteousness of the believer is that it does not come from ourselves. He referenced Matthew 5:20 "But I warn you - unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!" Pastor Bob went on to explain how the members of those two groups had lots of rules for doing all the "right" things. They were extremely focused on outward behaviors. But that is not where our righteousness comes from. It comes from that inner life change, which then produces the behaviors. The behaviors are absolutely meaningless without the inner life change, without Jesus!
At that point, a little light bulb went off in my head, and I heard a DING DING DING DING DING!
Autism. The most popular therapies focus on outward behaviors: eye contact, sitting still in class, good grades, articulation, etc. There are lists of behaviors that are deemed to be crucial for autistic children to learn. And that's all well and good. But it's all meaningless unless you get to the bottom of it all and work on what's inside (in this case, the brain). You can teach eye contact and rote social skills, but unless there is motivation to interact fed by positive episodic memories of interactions with others, and the development of competence in those interactions, it's meaningless.
I've been reflecting on this for a day or two, and it has been wonderful to dwell on the comparisons. The struggles I deal with in faith mirror the struggles I deal with in autism remediation. Being a good Christian? Great! Tell me what I need to do! Pray? OK, how do I do that? Is there a list? What sort of schedule do I keep? Prayer journal! I can do that! Read the Bible? Excellent! I can google all sorts of reading schedules for my Bible reading! Check that box off!! Trust in the Lord? How? Is there a list for that? No? Hmmm...
Remediate autism? I'm all over it! Read this book? Check! Watch that DVD? Sure! Slow down my pace? Hmmm, that's tricky but I think I can do it. Less language? OK! I can do that... painfully! Interact without having a "performance goal" in mind for the kids? Whoa.
What God wants is to have a real relationship with us. He doesn't care about our behaviors unless they are a reflection of our real and genuine desire to have a relationship with Him! And what we want for our children with autism is to have a real relationship with us and with others, and with God as well!