New on-line Orthodox resource encourages autism awareness, ministry

The Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Christian Service and Humanitarian Aid [CSHA] has joined US and international advocates in recognizing April 2016 as Autism Awareness Month.

“Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD] is a lifelong developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges,” said Donna Karabin, CSHA Chair.  “Each year, there are increasing numbers of children diagnosed with an ASD.  Recent studies show one in 68 children has an Autism Disorder, with boys four times more likely than girls.

“If our Orthodox parishes do not already have autistic children, adolescents or adults in their communities, it is highly likely they will in the future,” Mrs. Karabin continued.  “It is vitally important for clergy, Church School educators and fellow parishioners to learn about Autism – what it is and what it is not.”

To this end, a new educational resource—the Autism and Your Parish Video Series—was recently developed by Maura Oprisko, a wife and mother of three children, one of whom is her seven-year-old autistic son, William.  Maura and her family attend Saint Stephen Church [OCA], Crawfordsville, IN, where their pastor, Priest Joel Weir, is grateful for the steps Maura has taken to help the parish better understand their shared challenges.

“Maura is doing great work to raise awareness and equip parishes to better serve persons on the autism spectrum,” Father Joel said.  “I know as a priest I’ve benefited greatly from her willingness to educate me and our parishioners on autism so we can better minister to her son and support her and her family.”

Maura designed the free, downloadable video program to help parishes incorporate Autism Awareness Month into their educational programs.  She suggests workshop formats and offers printable worksheets, available on her web site blog, The Least of These.

The themes of the 10–15 minute videos include an introduction titled What is Autism?Two additional videos—the Function of Autistic Behaviors: What Looks Strange has a Purpose and Meltdowns: Why They Happen and What to Do—are also available.

“While initially designed for use as a three-part workshop during Lent, the program is valuable any time of the year,” Mrs. Karabin adds.  “As Maura says, ‘I want to talk about raising an autistic child in the Church. I want to discuss things we can do to improve our experience and lighten our burden by being part of our Church community.  I want to find out and discuss the wisdom of Holy Scripture and the saints when it comes to parenting special kids.  I want, above all, to point my kids in the direction of the Kingdom of God.  So let’s figure this out, together.’”