The theme chosen to celebrate April 2, 2022, is “Autistic people’s place is everywhere,”; a statement that expresses the basic desire of those who deal with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) on a daily basis to ask for respect, acceptance, welcoming, and inclusion – the goal of all those who fight for the autism cause.
And, just like the whole society, we, Spiritist educators, need to adapt to this new reality and group of people, which is becoming increasingly present in our institutions.
Regiane Cristina Villas Boas Gonzaga
Matão, São Paulo – Brasil
The US recently published a new predicted prevalence of Autism in December 2021, according to data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The data shows that 1 in 44 children is diagnosed with autism. This data shows a 22% increase from the previous study, released in 2020, which was 1 in 54 children.
This rise in cases shows how much researchers, health care, and education workers, as well as society as a whole (including religious temples), need to be prepared.
But first, we need to understand what autism is and how to identify its signs.
Autism, or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the ability to relate to people and the environment. Individuals with Autism have impairments in communication, social interaction, and behavior. The word “spectrum” is used because of the various levels of impairment, manifest differently from individual to individual. It is a multifactorial disorder (genetic/hereditary/environmental). The diagnosis is totally clinical since no laboratory tests confirm or rule out autism.
Children with Autism may present some of these signs: little or no eye contact; absence of speech or echolalia or decontextualized and functionless speech; not answering when called (appearing deaf); having a mania for lining up objects; preferring isolation and not being interested in other children; not knowing how to play functionally; not knowing how to share interests and attention; presenting a need always to keep the same routine; presenting stereotypes or repetitive movements with the hands or body; presenting fixed interest for a particular subject or attachment to objects; not understanding abstract thoughts; appearing insensitive to pain, cold, heat; presenting hypo or hypersensitivity to touch, lights, sounds, smells, tastes; presenting food restrictions; presenting exaggerated fears or absence of fear in the face of danger; having tantrums or fits of rage when contradicted, and so forth. But, of course, not all will present the same symptoms and signs. That is why a specialist’s evaluation is so important.
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. And this year, the chosen theme was “Autistic people’s place is everywhere.” The goal is to promote an inclusive message to society regarding autistic people.
And, just like the whole society, we, from the Spiritist Community (and all other religions), must adapt to this new reality and this new public, increasingly present in our institutions.
As far as Spiritist Youth Education is concerned, the first thing to do when we receive a child with ASD, is to welcome him/her with love, care, and attention.
Then it’s necessary to read and get informed about the issue, and also talk to parents and guardians to get to know the child better: to know how much independence he/she has (if the child knows how to go to the bathroom and eat alone, for example) or if he/she will need a chaperone; try to find out what he/she likes and dislikes, as well as his/her fears and limitations, and everything else that may be important for the child’s learning and good coexistence with other children.
There are children who do not like to be touched, or who are very sensitive to noise; who will not be able to sit still, or who will not be interested in the classroom lessons; in short, there are several behaviors that the teacher needs to be prepared to deal with. That is why talking to those responsible is so important. By getting to know the child, the educator can understand the best way to work with the child and help him/her, as well as prevent him/her from having any crisis or distress.
Try to reinforce good behavior and strengths (what he/she can do) with praise and not reinforce bad behavior. Use the things the child likes (such as toys and favorite characters) to teach what you want. If there is a crisis, make sure the child doesn’t hurt him/herself or others, and try to change the focus by distracting him/her with something else. And stay calm!
It is also very important to work on awareness, not only with the children in the classroom but with the whole community, so that, some behaviors can be understood and assist in the inclusion process. To this end, it can be done with the children through rounds of conversation, presentation of drawings, stories, theater, explaining autism in a simple way, always emphasizing the respect for diversity, the acceptance of the other as he/she is, the importance of helping him/her in his/her needs, and even to avoid bullying. And with adults, it is possible to give lectures, informative printed material, meetings, and many other forms of awareness.
Spiritual treatment is very important, such as the passes, the desobsession, the energized water, the orientation for parents to pray for their children while they sleep, and the gospel at home. And never forget that the best treatment is love!
The family must also be welcomed and supported because they have received a very challenging job and are often very tired.
So, educators, the advice is: love, do everything with love! It is not your job to treat the child with ASD as if you were a professional. Your only responsibility is love. By loving, you will find the inspiration to bring the teachings of Jesus into the little heart of this child. Be it through songs, drawings, stories, and so many other ways. Just by the fact that they hear about Jesus and His teachings, they will already be educated. They don’t need to do any activities if they don’t want to. Of course, we should encourage them and try to know how they learn. However, this is not the most important thing. The most important thing is for the child to be there and to feel loved. This is inclusion!
In this way, you will have accomplished your job in the education of this spirit.
I hope I have helped you!
Thanks and peace to all of you, workers, and sowers of light!
Regiane Cristina Villas Boas Gonzaga
Centro Espírita Nosso Lar – Matão – SP – Brasil