Vicki Shaver is a retired lecturer in Children’s Ministry. She has a particular interest in autism which began whilst supporting one of her students.
While teaching and working with children as well as working in teacher training over several decades, I was well aware of children on the autism spectrum.
However, when I began lecturing in Children’s Ministries at International Christian College, Glasgow, I met one mature student, who presented herself as capable, very orderly in assignments and study routines, walked with a limp, really disliked small group work, yet whose academic work was excellent (since then earning a BA (Hons) Th in Children’s Ministry and an MPhil in Philosophy and Religion from the University of Aberdeen). A retired residential social worker, an articulate speaker, in spite of having had a stroke which meant she had to learn to walk and talk again. She struggled with social interaction, with outbursts of frustration, not functioning well in the communal accommodation, even running away when it all got too much for her. At first I put this down to the stroke, then to experiences from her past.
After gradually realising the behaviours were not the problem but resulting from not being able to understand how she processed communication (via smell, taste, sound frequencies, visually, touch), she was willing to be tested for the possibility of autism at the Autism Resource Centre. In her fifties, she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome which liberated her for the most part, enabling her to understand herself and her past. The ARC guided us through the myriads of networks and frustrations of assisting the student towards independent living.
My part? Watch, listen and learn from her and others with Autism/Asperger’s. While I provide a measure of support, I have learned far more than I have given to her. So far, some principles that I have learned that now influence how I deal with not only those on the autism spectrum but indeed all people are:
- When senses are overloaded, then misunderstandings, fear, frustration, even pain occur.
- Understanding the importance and connectedness of touch, taste, smells, sounds and frequencies, light(s) has affected my teaching practice, lecturing styles.
- Developing specific strategies with the one with autism for behaviour, for when things go “off script”, for ways of handling anxiety, for preventing anxiety from developing into meltdowns is key.
Actually, the student is the champion, as she painfully, meticulously told her story from childhood, through school traumas, working in children’s residential care, handling relationships, working in organisations, being taken in to hospital care, pursuing further and higher education. My motivation? I do not want anyone to be hurt or damaged just because they are different or because we have not taken time to find out their languages or ways of perceiving life. My world is so much bigger and richer for having entered into the world of autism.
Vicki Shaver, BA (Hons) Th, MSc.
Retired Lecturer in Children’s Ministry.