Youth work with young people who are autistic

I had a very interesting meeting this morning with Ann Memmott who is our Diocesan adviser on Autism. We had a useful discussion on the issues and challenges faced by those on the Autistic Spectrum in their encounters with church.
Ann has written an excellent paper on working with people with ASD and you’ll find it here. I’m reproducing with her permission though the excellent summary as I know a lot of our groups/projects involve young people with Autism or Aspergers.
“Almost 35,000 people in Oxford Diocese are on the autism spectrum, people of every age and background and intelligence level.
Do ask us what, if anything, we need. Do please offer a welcome, and treat us as equals worthy of respect and a place in God’s church.
1. Check the lights in each room, especially fluorescent ones – any flickering ones? Please replace them. (This also helps people with epilepsy)
2. Noise levels. Is there anything unexpected in today’s service/meeting? Can it be changed easily? If not, can you warn us? (This also helps people with mental health conditions and those who are deaf)
3. The building. Do we know what it looks like, and what the layout is like today? Is information on a simple website, perhaps? (This also helps people who have visual disabilities or those who are nervous of attending somewhere new)
4. The Order of service – really clear instructions for us e.g. where to sit, when to stand and sit, what to say at each point? Either write it down, or get someone to be with us to quietly say what to do, please. (This also helps those new to church). Different colour paper may help some to read service sheets, e.g. light blue paper rather than white.
5. We are very literal, and our minds may see in pictures, not words. If you need to use complicated language, can someone be available to briefly explain it afterwards if we need it, maybe by email? (This helps those who find reading more difficult, too, which is one in every five people in the UK)
6. Physical events e.g. shaking hands? Water being splashed about? We may find this physically painful, or alarming as we’re hypersensitive and need to prepare ourselves for sensory changes. Please warn us what will happen, and avoid physical contact unless we offer first. (This also helps those with arthritis, and those who are nervous of being touched because of memories of violence)
7. Rest area – somewhere quiet to go if we need to, please. Or don’t worry if we wander outside for a while. (This also helps people who have chronic fatigue illnesses, and mental health conditions for example, as well as those with back problems who may need a quick lie-down on a bench)
8. Socialising. Be aware we find it difficult and exhausting as we cannot ‘see’ or hear you that well, and may not recognise you. Our body language can be different to yours, and we may not make eye contact. Please don’t think we’re rude. (This also helps people who are more introverted).
9. Be Clear and Accurate. If you say you’ll do something, please do it, and on time. Those on the autistic spectrum will always find it very distressing if you promise to help and don’t, or promise to phone at a certain time and don’t, or if you use expressions like “I’ll be back in five minutes” when you mean, “I’ll be back some time this afternoon”. If you need to change arrangements, please just let us know.
10. Support: Find a quiet caring person to be aware of us, someone ready to lend a little assistance if we need it – but within safe guidelines, especially if one of us also has Vulnerable Adult status”

Youth work specifics that we talked about included:

i. Meeting earlier in the day is better than later
ii. Flag up what you are about to do/change
iii. Know that young people with Autism experience a high level of bullying
iv. Socially, ASD young people will be a considerable way behind their peers
and lastly
v. Support the whole family
Additional: Ann has done a piece of work where she has looked at some teaching material and noted what would and wouldn’t work with an ASD young person, makes for an interesting guide if anyone would like to know more about this.

Walkman vs ipod

walkman ipod teen.jpg
I loved this! Great article from the BBC relating to the 30th anniversary of the iconic Walkman. A teenager is given one to use for a week in place of his usual ipod. Made me laugh, made me feel old.
Captains Log supplemental: This post seems to be leading to a bit of a nostalgia-fest (always a good thing). I thought this picture might be a useful fusion of old and new:
walkman ipod fusion.jpg

Recycle and Re-use

skipred.jpgI’m still working away at the Garden and hope to complete the second piece of decking before I disappear off to Taize. I’ve been gathering material for the supports of this new section, a bit of skip-surfing has produced some bricks and some really great metal mesh that’ll make creating a concrete barrier much easier, nice!
I’m also really chuffed with the planting table that enjoyed a previous career as a Pallet.
We have an old parasol base that has ceased to function properly. It’s one of the plastic ones that you fill with water to act as a weight, however it’s so cracked that the water just escapes. So, last night I poured some quick setting concrete powder into it and it is now useable again.
(Best bit of recycling though has been discovering a broken marquee is a skip that was the same design as the one we use for Yellow Braces. I thus gleened some useful spares)
I greatly fear I am turning into an amalgam of a Womble and Bob the Builder!

mY wEEkEnD by mE

My weekend started off with visiting a Youth drop-in which was fun. Much silliness and good conversation while munching through a box quantity of ice-lollies from a well known frozen food store that we worked out cost 4.2p each! A spontaneous game emerged too which involved trying to throw Jenga pieces onto the top of the giant Jenga stack in such a way that it knocked your opponents pieces off, while they were also attempting this. (Not very successful!)
From there I went onto an inter-church Youth evening in Reading called “Raw Worship!” It was great to catch up with a few folk over a burger and listen to the bands warm up. Sadly didn’t get to stay for the acts as I’d taken my eldest along on the basis it was the sort of thing he loves, but it turned out if wasn’t. He went and stood by the car and refused to budge as it was too loud.
Sunday morning was a home match and I was roped in to doing some ‘magic’ at Sunday School. I’m hoping there is no come back from one of the “DO NOT try this at home” type tricks 🙂
Sunday evening saw me up in rural Oxfordshire playing rounders on the grounds behind the community hall. The church in the village has an excellent relationship with a great bunch of young people but was struggling to find enough volunteers to keep the work going. They put together an advert for a sessional worker though and found someone local who is GREAT. So, the evening was a chance for the young people to ‘interview’ the worker and begin a conversation about how September onward could be shaped.
church fields.jpg

Michael Jackson

mj 80s.jpgI couldn’t believe it when I heard this morning that Michael Jackson had died. I’m currently working from ‘my’ coffee shop where his Music is playing and much of the conversation is about his life and music. I feel a greater sadness than I would have expected, something that seems to be echoed in overheard snippets around me.
His music was rarely far away from the charts in my teenage years, while his dancing was what I secretly aspired (utterly unrealistically) to.
Michael Jackson it seemed spent his life searching for the childhood he never had and longing to be accepted, leading to the very public mess of the last few years. His death though will draw a media line over this aspect of his life I hope, and he will be remembered as an extraordinarily talented entertainer who not only sold sixty five million copies of one album, but still had sufficient clout to sell a fifty night residency in the hope of seeing what he did best, great, great, feel-good high-energy pop music!
” ……. Gotta Hide Your Inhibitions
Gotta Let That Fool Loose Deep Inside Your Soul
Want To See An Exhibition
Better Do It Now Before You Get To Old
‘Cause We’re The Party People Night And Day
Livin’ Crazy That’s The Only Way
So Tonight Gotta Leave That Nine To Five
Upon The Shelf And Just
Enjoy Ourselves/Yourself C’mon And Groove (Yeah)
Let The Madness In The Music Get To You
Life Ain’t So Bad At All
If You Live It Off The Wall Life
Ain’t So Bad At All (Live Life Off The Wall)
Live Your Life Off The Wall (Live It Off The Wall) …..”

CYM and university place cuts

I guess quite a few people will know that CYM* have had a major reduction in the places it has to offer next year. Until yesterday though I had not comprehended the scale and implications of this (both for CYM specifically and for university places in general).
Nationally the government has reduced the money it pays per student by 10% and even more seriously, capped the number of students each university can take, with severe financial penalties if this number is exceeded. This is a dramatic shift from the policy of increasing the number of young people who go to university. A policy which the universities have been investing in and gearing up to.
For CYM as an external provider linked to a university that has to make job and course cuts, their resultant number cap has been more dramatic. CYM will not be able to offer places to those who last year would have sailed in, also churches that have advertised and only now found a potential worker/student no longer have a course for them to go to.
On the basis of the very streamlined intake CYM will, I should think, have to radically re-engineer, in the medium term, to continue.
Looking wider as well though, August and September could be really tough for those who get their A level results with significantly less university places, and in some cases, courses that no longer exist. The clearing process may have very little to offer this year.
Young people are already bearing the brunt of growing unemployment, this dramatic change of policy is only going to make that worse!

*Centre for Youth Ministry


I thought I had invented a word today but sadly not! I came up with ‘Miscontent’ to explore a particular idea but it is Googlable, however only as an alternative rendering of discontent.
The context was wanting to do a piece of reflective work with Youth workers of the Diocese. Steve Tilley had recently flagged up a quote that has been on my mind for a few days, axiomatically observing that,

“In churches there is not a culture of being critical about things you are enjoying!”

It struck me that this was a useful truism and wondered about how critique could therefore be encouraged of that which wasn’t bad, failing or un-enjoyable. Thus ‘miscontent’ was born. The idea was trying to identiify events or situations that you were not discontent with, but somewhere on the margins of your thoughts or feelings there was a mis-content, a feeling that, as good as it was, there was a need for re-examination or change.
Given the number of events, organisations and strategies that carry on until the point where they don’t work, I think the quote and the idea of mis-contentment is really interesting.
We had a good conversation around this. I still don’t know if it’s useful but hey I’m going to play with this idea and be critically thinking about various projects over the holidays (or, I guess therefore, my summer of miscontent)