**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 6, No. 2 February 2004
Parents have many worries and fears in our society today. Yet, there are group of parents whose children “look normal” but who have sensory and communication difficulties who have a particular burden to bear.
Today, I heard a parent advocate speak about the awareness and safety of children with autism. Bill Davis travels around the country speaking mostly to parents, police, emergency personnel, and retail business people about children like his 10-year-old son who has autism. However, much of what he said could pertain to other neurological differences as well. It is relevant even for teens and adults with mental illness.
The great fear is this: With significant sensory challenges which make it difficult to cope with the extreme stimulation of modern society and with the limited ability to communicate what they are thinking and feeling, our children are extremely vulnerable to being misunderstood and hurt even by persons who mean well. Whether they are bothered by flickering lights, loud noises, or even clothing that brushes against their skin, the pain can lead to extreme behavior under circumstances that seem quite ordinary to most folks.
In the current climate of paranoia and fear in our country brought about by random acts of violence and terrorism, many people react instinctively with behaviors which only escalate the situation, such as shouting, use of coercion and force, and even outright violence. This increases the fear and aggressive behavior in the person who doesn’t understand what is happening.
Bill Davis’ work involves giving simple information about the meaning of the behaviors associated with autism. He stresses that persons with autism are not mean or aggressive or violent because they want to be. They are simply communicating as best they know how the discomfort and pain that they are feeling. It is up to us to stay calm and focused, use soft voices and calming techniques, and try to understand how to make the person feel comfortable and safe again.
Davis believes that parents need to be the advocates for their children. They need to communicate to the community, including neighbors, police, firefighters, and EMT’s the kind of behaviors they are likely to encounter. Parents also need to find ways of exposing their children little by little to society and training them in ways to cope and feel comfortable. Davis admits that this is more than a full-time job–it is a way of life.
Yet, not every child has parents as articulate, skilled, and energetic as Bill Davis. My own sense is that the information that Bill shares, while crucially important, is just the first step. Pain, anxiety, and fear are involved in many other conditions as well. Yet, persons with disabilities and mental illness are a part of our communities. They need support and their families need support. None of us can do this on our own.
And indeed, in the current climate of fear, when push comes to shove, it is hard to remain focused on the needs of the other person when it feels like our own safety is in jeopardy. We need to be spiritually ready at all times to practice what John McGee calls “Gentle Teaching.” (See https://companionresources.org/Companionship/Gentleness.) For persons of the Christian faith, it is the ultimate test of whether we are ready like Jesus to absorb the pain and hurt and fear of the world rather than inflict more pain and hurt and fear in return. To be spiritually prepared, we also need the support and encouragement of the community.
Efforts like that of Bill Davis to inform and educate the community are certainly important. To read more about Davis, see these links:
Bill Davis: Parent / Safety & Awareness Advocate
Order one or both of Bill Davis’ books
[14 January 2007: Unfortunately, the link that was here is no longer active.]
Building community means building bridges of understanding and healing and hope. It means standing against a climate of fear and violence with assurances of safety and love.
Your feedback on this or any other subject is welcomed. Visit the Companion Resources website for more information about autism, disabilities, mental illness, and many other related subjects.
Paul D. Leichty
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”