Monday, April 25, 2011

Celebrating Easter with autism

Easter has always been a big deal in my family. Both my husband and I come from church-going families, and I also had 2 grandparents involved in full-time ministry for over 60 years. Things got a lot more complicated with attending church after my husband and I had 2 boys with autism. This is especially true on Easter Sunday when you typically have to park really far away, the building is packed with people, Sunday school classes are stuffed to the gills, and the whole place reeks of Easter lilies. Talk about overload. Church is hard enough for the boys on a typical Sunday.
For the past few years we have made the decision to skip church on Easter. It hasn’t been worth the additional stress that we all feel trying to navigate the hectic and overwhelming day. We had actually stopped going to church entirely for a time when we were thick in the throes of autism-related meltdowns. But, thankfully we are now able to attend church on a fairly regular basis. As time goes on my boys are better able to manage sensory input and transitions. I feel confident that we’ll be able to begin attending Easter Sunday services again in the not-too-distant future.
Since we didn’t go to church for Easter, we celebrated in our own way. We’ve shared the Easter story with the boys before, but they never seem to retain it. Despite our very simple explanations of the life and death of Jesus, we have doubted their understanding. Knowing that they have a visual memory, we decided to try a child-friendly video story of Easter this year. We thought it would be the perfect way for them to “see” the story of Jesus and then hopefully move the information into their memory.
After spending some time searching online for children’s videos that explained the Easter story, we found a few that were okay but didn’t fully convey the information in the way we had hoped. Then, we found a video posted on YouTube from “Zondervancom,” which I could only imagine was from the huge publishing company Zondervan. So, we clicked on it and found a 3-minute video that was created with kids in mind. It had nicely animated graphics and went through the story of Jesus beginning just before his arrest and concluding after he rose from the dead. My husband and I liked this version well enough to show it to the boys. We chose to have them watch the video prior to any other sort of Easter festivities so that they would be as focused as possible.
They watched the entire thing without hesitation or disruption. After viewing the video, we talked about it as a family. Surprisingly, both of the boys understood the story and could, in their own way, explain the main points of what happened when we questioned them about it. We spent some time going over the details of the story and felt confident that they actually did have some understanding of the importance of Easter. I feel that this was a great outcome for our personal celebration of Easter this year. I can only hope that next year is even better.
Here is the video we found and shared with our boys.

Do you have a child with autism or sensory issues that makes attending church difficult? How do you deal with concepts related to faith and religion?
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