I am joining the group, started by Patty Wysong, that is doing an alphabetical posting each week. This is my first entry, written at 1:00am when I awoke with an idea for "A".
For the last five years, I have worked with a boy who has autism. I “shadow” him at church so that his parents can attend services.”Michael” is now age 12 and has become quite popular!
When he first started, he was nearly 8 years old, but functioned at a second grade level. Before I worked one on one with him, he attended the kindergarten/First grade Sunday school, and the teenage boy who shadowed him at the time stood back and allowed him free-reign of the room. Michael loves music, so was very attentive at the beginning of the class, but when they broke up into small groups, he would either go outside on the playground, or sit on the floor to work a puzzle. There was very little personal interaction with him and his peers.
At the time, I had a vision to start a disability ministry in my church, so was in the background organizing workers for the other two special needs kids, and assembling the large room they had designated for this group. Sadly, my vision for this ministry was not the churchs’ vision, and it died. Also, the large classroom was needed for the growing Sunday school group, so we were relocated to another room. Looking back, I realize that God knew that my current job would take all my energy so that I would not be able to give much to a special needs ministry. However, I carried that hurt for a long time.
When the teenage boy could no longer do the weekly shadowing, I stepped in. After some discussion with his parents and with the leaders, I decided that Michael needed to move up to the next level: Second-fifth grade, where there was high energy and lots of music. He loved it! The kids gradually accepted him, although we never discussed his disabilities in a group setting. If someone asked, I would explain why Michael behaves the way he does. The kids were always understanding and tried to be friends.
Once the main group broke into smaller groups, Michael and I would go to another classroom and play ball or some other diversion. He was never into arts and crafts and would not tolerate bookwork.
Around the time Michael turned eleven he, seemed bored with this age level so we moved up again. Now, we attend worship service and he loves it! When the preaching starts, he states "Time to go, Barbara.” Due to church growth, we lost the second classroom, and now meet in the break room of the church office. We listen to the CD from the Cubbies level AWANA program that is modified Bible verses set to music; going through the entire book and singing the songs. When that CD is finished, he chooses other music that the early childhood director had printed out lyrics so that he could read along with the singing. Michael cannot carry a tune and sings with all his heart-just like me! It is precious and when people come in and out of the office, they too are blessed to hear him.
Every Sunday, we attend worship time, and when we leave for our own session, people cheerily greet Michael and he greets them. And then we go and sing our hearts out. What a blessing this is for me, even when I’m weary and not in the mood to be silly. I am not doing this to get recognition, but sometimes that selfishness slips in and I feel bad for being overlooked each year at our volunteer appreciation events. But God knows and sees, and my reward will be in Heaven!
Michael has come a long way in the last five years, and I feel blessed to be a part of his growth. In his special way, Michael shares his love of God with everyone he meets. This is what teaching Sunday school is all about!