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A Wider Vision

In February, 2020, a few weeks before we were to hold our Gifts of the Heart Gala Concert and Dinner, I wrote a short speech for the dinner portion of the event. In that speech, I wrote about a new, wider vision, one that went beyond FIN’s vision of helping faith communities to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and urged us to consider a more inclusive society for all people. My thoughts led me to one of the most well-known leaders of our modern time, Martin Luther King, Jr. I began to write out my own dream, a dream of not only of a more inclusive society for people with disabilities, but a more inclusive society for everyone.

I recently came back to that speech, tucked away in my computer, and realized just how relevant it is right now. Although in the first days and weeks of the pandemic, I assumed these words would never be shared, I feel compelled to share with you now. As leader of Faith Inclusion Network, I hope to convey a deep love and respect for all persons. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, their abilities or differences of any kind, we are all equal in the sight of God. FIN stands not only with the disability community, many of whom have experienced marginalization in their faith communities and in other parts of society, but with people who are black or brown, fighting for their rights, tired of being treated as less than, trying to protect their families and friends.

So, I have dusted off, edited and share the following; intended for a Gala we have yet to reschedule, but maybe meant for a time such as this.

Many blessings to you all!

-Karen Jackson, FIN

A Wider Vision

“Last December, 2019, I attended an inspiring one-day workshop in Boston, MA.  I represented FIN at the Interfaith Summit on Disability Inclusion held by the Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization that supports some amazing inclusion work in their Boston community and around the country.

The keynote speaker was former congressman from California, Tony Coelho. He played a significant role in getting the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, to pass back in 1990. He shared his moving story of having epilepsy and not being able to achieve his original dream, as a young man in the 1950’s, to become a priest. Because of his epilepsy diagnosis, his life steered him away from ministry and into politics. He is considered by many as one of the main sponsors of the ADA.

Tony Coelho

As Mr. Coelho spoke, and throughout the rest of the day’s presentations, a thought blossomed in my mind.  By the end of the conference, my take away was crystal clear: Cast a wider vision!

I had ample opportunity to reflect on this idea because of the snow that provided an extended layover in LaGuardia. I sat myself down in the terminal and began to write in free-form, letting my thoughts spill onto my notebook.

As the minutes and eventually the hours passed, I kept coming back to that wider, more inclusive vision. A vision that is radical yet obvious, outrageous yet simple. What we need, I thought is a Martin Luther King type vision; a vision that recasts society’s expectation of what it means to be inclusive of all people. People who learn, think, behave, communicate or move in ways that aren’t considered typical. People who are black or brown, fighting for equality, people who have a different sexual orientation, people who have not been treated with respect. Why? Because we are all created equally in the image of God. We are human. We are unique. We all need to strive to love and value each and every person.

I then began to write some of my own dreams, respectfully borrowing the format of Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

  • I have a dream that my family and friends, regardless of abilities, ethnicity or sexual orientation, never have to feel alone, isolated by the barriers of attitude, hopelessness or fear. I dream that they are never afraid to leave home for fear of being excluded, hurt, or simply ignored. I dream that all who have felt marginalized by society find a place where they belong and that they are welcomed wherever they choose to go.

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  • I have a dream that the people of faith here in Hampton Roads, in our country and around the world, rise to their calling to change the status quo, to speak out when they see someone treated as “less than” because of their disability or the color of their skin, or their economic status, to make it their mission to be a friend, to offer their love and support, to love their neighbor as themselves.

 

  • I have a dream that one day, when I am gone, that my daughter Samantha and others who do not have a voice, will be embraced by a community that loves them for their uniqueness. I pray that one day all people will be accepted and cared for without having an advocate by their side, constantly having to monitor and work on their behalf.

 

  • I have a dream that you, whether you are affected by disability or not, have been the recipient of ignorant and hurtful racism or not, have been made to feel less than for any reason or not, will help us build our Hampton Roads community into a region that is a beacon of light. Help us be an example to the country that there is a better way, a way paved in love for all people, a way fueled by faith and intentional in our desire to be inclusive of all people.

I ask you to take this message and share it with your faith community. Share it with your businesses and your organizations. Share it with your friends. Let’s take this vision…this dream, and work together to make it a reality. Because the vision to be an inclusive community will only be realized with everyone’s contribution.

Let’s get to work.”

Author, Karen Jackson with daughter Samantha

Blessings to you as you work to re-enter your workplace, school, faith communities or any other aspect of society after this time of social distancing and quarantine.

I pray we move ahead as a community towards understanding and equality for people affected by racism and exclusion due to disability or any other kind of difference. Be well, stay safe and know that we can all make a difference.

 

 

 

Community for ALL-2020

Community. It’s been on my mind for quite a while. The precious, almost sanctified sense of belonging…to a group of people that know you, care about you, and miss you when you are not there. For those who experience community, it is the part of their life that often brings them great joy, this connection with others.

My work with Faith Inclusion Network is mainly about helping faith communities fulfill that sense of community and belonging for people affected by disability. I am keenly aware of the challenge individuals and families can face when seeking inclusion and community in congregations, and the sense of defeat they can experience when things do not work out as desired.

Michelle Munger, Associate Director of FIN, Shelly Christensen, Samantha Jackson, Fr. Eric Ayers, Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and Karen Jackson

I myself am richly blessed with being a part of many different kinds of community. I meet monthly with a group of moms who, like me, are raising children with disabilities. We meet together to listen and encourage, sharing our similar parenting journeys. I also find strong community at my church and enjoy worship, and the fellowship and social opportunities provided there. I have a tight-knit neighborhood community and am part of my school community, where I have taught music for more than 20 years.

Yes, community is important to me and to many others, which is why the Community for ALL initiative that we celebrated last weekend is an idea that I am hopeful will gain momentum throughout our Hampton Roads region and perhaps even beyond.

C4A poster made at Temple Israel, Norfolk

Community for ALL  or C4A as we have quickly nick-named it, is an interfaith disability awareness weekend that gives congregations the opportunity to celebrate their already established disability inclusion efforts or introduce members of their congregation to the importance of inclusion. In its inaugural weekend (Saturday, Feb. 29-Sunday, March 1 2020) Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish and non-denominational churches in our area and in a few areas out side Hampton Roads, including New York state and Toronto, CAN, participated in the C4A weekend, by providing guest speakers, including information in their bulletins about disability inclusion efforts, making posters and sharing about Faith Inclusion Network. There is likely much that did not get reported back to us…and that is completely fine. Of course, we want to know about any efforts that were sparked by the C4A weekend, but that is really not the point. As Frank Fabiano, the Lead Chaplain with Faith Choice Connections in Warren, Washington and Albany Counties, NY shared in an encouraging email he sent in early February, “… at least four of these churches [in his network], plus the synagogue that is planning one for next year, are doing something because you all encouraged us to host a Community for All weekend! Thank you so very much!!”

It seems simple and yet, I talked recently on the phone with a young woman with a disability who was looking for a way to connect with her community. She lives on her own without family nearby, does not have transportation and currently is not working. Where does someone in this situation find community?

If you answered, “church” or a “faith community” you are right there with me. It seems obvious, right? But there are barriers to making that happen, which is why we need to be intentional about inviting all people into our congregations and communities and providing accessibility and accommodations as needed. This is the heart of the “why” behind the Community for ALL initiative.

Shelly Christensen, speaker, consultant and author of “From Longing to Belonging”. Shelly also helped to develop the C4A initiative as one of FIN’s National Board Advisors.

On Sunday, March 1, I sat next to my friend and national faith and disability leader and speaker, Shelly Christensen at Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk. I helped facilitate the opportunity for Shelly, who is of Jewish faith, to speak briefly at Second Pres., a very community-minded church and the home to Faith Inclusion Network’s office. We took our seats in the front pew and their new music minister, Robert Shoup, began the opening music, a short selection from the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein. The soprano soloist started and sang the beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew. I glanced over at Shelly and could see the emotion in her face. I had tears forming in my own eyes. The thoughtfulness that went into selecting this music because of Shelly’s participation was beyond moving. It was intentional, welcoming and inclusive.

The children were then called up to the front and sat down with the youth pastor. He shared a story about being different, about his experience with a group of people at a Special Olympics event and what he had learned about being accepting of differences. Again, an intentional addition to the service, tying into the theme of inclusion and community. This was followed by Shelly’s talk about inclusion and her very important message about belonging. As the title of her most recent book, “From Longing to Belonging” emphasizes, belonging is the key to making community work. We are not part of a community unless we feel we belong.

Shelly Christensen, Pastor Craig Wansink and Karen Jackson

The entire service at Second Presbyterian was more than I could have hoped for. Not only was the C4A weekend the first weekend of Lent is was also a special 10-year anniversary at the church for the senior Pastor, Craig Wansink. Despite all of this, the worship team chose to incorporate and celebrate C4A. The service was beautiful and perhaps even more meaningful because they had to work extra hard to incorporate the inclusion theme into the already full worship time.

Community. It takes intentional effort and at times, can be elusive for people on that are sometimes (oftentimes?) on the outside looking in. Yet, as people of faith, I believe we can make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by disability if we put developing community, being accessible, being welcoming and finding ways to include all people, at the top of our list.

Thank you to all who participated in any way with the very first Community for ALL weekend and for all who are actively involved in disability inclusion efforts in our faith communities and community at large. I am already looking forward to next year’s C4A weekend and hope you and your faith community will consider participating.

Peace,

Karen J.

Faith Communities who Participated in C4A-2020

Crossroads Church, Norfolk, VA
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach, VA
Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA
Church of the Holy Apostles, Virginia Beach, VA
Trinity Presbyterian Church Norfolk, VA
First Congregational Church Saugerties, NY
Great Bridge Baptist Church Chesapeake, VA
Temple Israel Norfolk, VA
Wesley Grace UMC, Norfolk, VA
New Life Church-Ghent Campus, Norfolk, VA 
Church of the Ascension Episcopal Church, Norfolk, VA 
St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Norfolk, VA
Enoch Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, VA

And thank you to the organizations that endorsed the C4A Initiative

RavensWay Foundation, Hampton Roads, VA
The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Eggleston Services, Norfolk, VA
Friendship Ministries, Michigan
Different Dream Living, Iowa
Key Ministry, Ohio
Inclusion Innovations, Minnesota
NAMI Coastal Virginia, Virginia Beach, VA
SPRED of Virginia, Newport News, VA
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services, Norfolk, VA
The Salvation Army-Broadview Village, Toronto, CA
Social Butterflies Club, Virginia Beach, VA
Park Place Child Life Center, Norfolk, VA 
Warren, Washington, and Albany Counties ARC, NY
Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Richmond, VA
Walk Right In Ministries, Minesota
Anabaptist Disabilities Network, Indiana
Autism Faith Network, Georgia
TRDance, Norfolk, VA
SeeJesus, Bethesda Disability Ministry, Pennsylvania
Benevolence United, Warrenton, Virginia

 

Beauty Perseveres

As we come to the end of Autism Awareness month 2017, I would like to thank the contributors to our Autism Moms and Dads Blog Interview Series for sharing a bit about their lives in the world of Autism.  It has been particularly interesting to get the Dad’s perspective this year in addition to the Moms. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to re-connect with both local and national friends and make some new FIN friends along the way. Many thanks to those that interviewed: David Rizzo, dad to Danielle from New Jersey, Ruth and Rick Robins, parents of Tripp in Virginia, Tim Craig, dad to Clinton, from New Jersey, Janet Shouse, mom to Evan Shouse from Tennessee and Michael Hoggatt, dad to Summer from California. You are all an inspiration to me and it was a pleasure to “meet” you and your children through these interviews. 

Blessings to all those out there that love and care for people affected by autism. You are doing a great job!-K. Jackson

Beauty Perseveres

As I sat on my front porch, on a lovely late-April morning, a sweet little flower caught my eye. Not that flowers are unusual in the spring time, especially in Virginia, but this one seemed to be growing right through our tiled front porch! And the words “beauty perseveres” invaded my mind.

The writer in me jumped at the chance to use this unusual bloom as a symbol of the strong, determined and undefeatable autism moms, dads and children that I have met on my own parenting journey. Persons who have autism and parents and caregivers who, despite challenging behaviors, multiple medical needs, serious communication and sensory challenges and more, do persevere. They persevere even when it seems impossible to do so. They persevere through the tiled foundations of our society’s misunderstanding of autism, through uniformed attitudes and the unrelenting hyper-vigilance required of some moms and dads of children with autism. They persevere because they love their children.

Recently, our family has faced quite a few challenges; from our daughter’s six day hospitalization in the Intensive Care Unit of our local Children’s hospital to last summer, when we were dealing with some extremely challenging behaviors related to an anxiety disorder, (and let’s not forget the recent aggravating car accident that required a new vehicle), it has been a whirlwind. Yet through God’s grace and a generous dose of His strength, we have persevered and come out on the other side, seeing the beauty in our daughter, in our lives and in our amazing God.

“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts…” Romans 5:2-5

Most Christians, when presented with the term, “perseverance” would go right to the above scripture in Romans. “Suffering produces perseverance” we are taught. But the most important part of these verses to me is not that we suffer (because everyone suffers, whether or not they are affected by any kind of disability) but that through suffering we eventually get to hope.  This is the beauty I see out of our perseverance; a hope that sustains, that draws others to God and helps us appreciate the gifts that our beautiful children with autism bring into our lives.

Just as that flower grows through the seemingly impossible place on my front porch, I pray that all of those affected by autism persevere through the difficult challenges that ASD can sometimes bring and experience the beauty and hope of God’s love for us all.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Dear Church Leaders…

Many thanks to Jenny Emory Redick who wrote the following poignant letter to church leaders on her Facebook page.  With her permission, I share it here because this letter so eloquently captures the essence of  why we at FIN work so hard to bring awareness and educate on faith inclusion.  
Jenny lives in Virginia Beach and is mom to two lovely girls, one of which has multiple disabilities. She was a FIN Board Member not too long ago and we have always appreciated her outspoken and inspirational writing style…

Jenny and her husband, Jim Redick

Dear Church Leaders, I love you all, and think you are amazing – Especially when you are real and admit humanity in all of its failings. Your jobs are hard. I appreciate you!
You don’t know many of us, but let me introduce myself as an example of a rather large group of people who have faith and enjoy church and want to be there, yet often than not, are not present when the bell tolls.
I am a lover of God and Jesus. A human -hypocritical, failing without Him, putting my hope in Him and all of His love, mercy and grace that gets me through each day. He is my Father, Savior and he has seen me through this earthly life in its entirety! I do not “have it all together”. I frankly don’t even want to anymore, as I am tired on many different levels. I am a parent of a child with medical diagnoses and behaviors that can often be aggressive toward others. When my family or part of my family, enter church, we pretty much stand out, look different, attract attention (not the pleasant kind). I get it, though.
I don’t make it to church regularly. I would like to, as I love to be there and be reminded of the goodness of the Lord, and why I need Him in my life each and every moment.
Here’s the thing… I need more emotional, physical and spiritual energy to get through the process of actual attendance. You see, most church buildings are not up to ADA codes and laws, so, toileting and even sometimes entering a church or rooms in a church are impassible. The majority of church members (I am lucky to have a group of individuals at a “mega church” who are committed to regular support of my child” when I make it) act like the rest of the non-attending of the world – some smile pityingly, some rush by, averting their eyes at the glimpse of a child with wheels, some stare with true annoyance and rolling of the eyes if we ever attempt full inclusion – meaning, my child gets to be in the same service but is loud or makes praise noises that do not blend nicely with the others who are not neuro-diverse. Again, I get it. We are a minority, and not necessarily pleasant to have around. At least not when we all have the same stagnant frame of mind where those who are neuro-diverse were hidden away, not stepping foot or wheel into a church sanctuary.
So, I’m asking you for help. I’m asking you to talk about these realities of our newer world where people who are neuro-diverse are not shut away, up in the pulpit, in the Sunday school classroom, and in the board meetings. I’m asking you to practice interacting with people who are neuro-diverse, until your comfort level has risen considerably. I’m asking you to admit these failings of the church, just like other failings like – not tithing enough or not serving the youth enough, or not serving the needy in the community enough in front of the church or classroom. I’m asking you to research best practices of inclusion (they are out there – produced by tired parents like myself for your benefit and the benefit of our children) and apply them in your services and church functions. I’m asking you to budget for making the entire church, oh, and new additions to the church, entirely ADA compliant. I’m asking you to learn “people first language” (ie. we don’t say “cancer kid”, so why say “handicapped kid” or, God help us… “retarded kid” .) and use the appropriate language and ask your congregation to use it. (Believe me, half the battle of improving comfort level regarding interacting with those who are neuro-diverse is not knowing what to say or how to say it!)
There’s a lot more, but this is getting long and, I’m sure, very tedious for you to read.
Please do NOT think that I am not deeply grateful for the small village of individuals (church members and attendees) who have taken the time, commitment and energy to shift their paradigms, help us get to church, help us when we get there and learn how to interact and teach my child about Jesus. They even offer us periodic respite outside of church hours, and let me tell you, it’s pretty much one of the best gifts I have ever received in my life! It has been deeply healing and gratifying to accept this Jesus- love through other humans. I could definitely do more, and I plan to. I really do. I’m just asking that you do more too. You see, I have it really, really good in life. But, there are thousands in my community, in OUR community, who do not have it like I have it. Thank you for listening, and thank you for making the changes that I know are coming your/our way!
-Jenny Redick

Autism Moms Interview #6 Katie Moormann

april_is_autism_awareness_month_1

Katie Moorman and I have been friends for many years.  We first met at Living in Holland when I helped to facilitate this parent support group at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.  When it was time to hand over the reins, so to speak, of coordinating LIH, I knew (maybe even before Katie did) that she was the natural choice to lead.  Now many new families are meeting as part of LIH at Crossroads Church in Norfolk and our little group is stronger than ever!

A talented writer, Katie shares the very real challenges that affect her family as she and her husband raise a child with multiple disabilities.  I know all autism moms (and dads) will appreciate her honesty and insights.  Love you, Katie!- K. Jackson

 Interview with:  Katie Moormann

Coordinator of Living and Holland Ministry at Crossroads Church, 1127 Surrey Crescent, Norfolk, VA 23508

Mom to: Iva “June” Moormann, age 6 1/2

Contributing author for,  Loving Samantha by Karen F. Jackson

http://www.ivajune.blogspot.com

How old was your child when she was first diagnosed with autism?  How did you feel when you received diagnosis?

Katie: June was 18 months when we asked the neurologist for a diagnosis-mainly so we could start getting help and benefits. At that time he diagnosed her with: Intellectual Disability, Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy and (possible) Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Over the years, the diagnosis took shape and form. We started telling people she had Autism and the doctors would just write it on her forms as one of her diagnoses. Last year at the age of 6 we formally had her evaluated by a psychologist and it was confirmed that she had autism. When I told my neurologist he kind of laughed and said, “I already diagnosed her with that”. I felt numb when I received the diagnosis. The grieving process is cyclical and ebbs and flows.

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How has living with autism affected your family?

Katie: Autism has been the hardest diagnosis of all three of June’s diagnoses. It is the thing that affects our family the most and I would say that I DAILY struggle with anger about June’s autism because it cuts into our lives in such drastic ways. I think the hardest part is that our life can’t be “normal”. We can’t just pack up our car on a Saturday afternoon and head to the beach. There is a lot of planning involved, emotional restraint and extra people who come along. Our home is always an “open book” for all to see where we daily have people coming into our house giving us advice, therapy and even though there is respite, it is not respite from being emotionally exhausted and being the “on” mom. I think one of the hardest things that we can’t do is order a pizza and watch a movie and relax on a Friday night. Because somebody always has to follow June around who is either standing directly in front of the TV or in the corner gagging herself or spitting everywhere, or who has turned the oven on, or who has dug in her poopy diaper and eaten it. Or maybe she just wants to climb in the kitchen sink. Yeah, forget the movie. My oldest child has become protector and babysitter at a very young age and my youngest has become a professional whiner because she longs to be the baby but her older sister has snatched her place. My husband and I fight about how to handle June’s autism. That’s a strain. Glorious Saturday mornings come and we can’t go outside and do yard work together while our children bounce around our yard. That’s what we miss.

What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

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Katie: There are moments where I see my daughter in a different light-where she gives me a piece of herself that she hasn’t before. My greatest joy is seeing these things for the first time. When June is sick, all she wants to do is cocoon up into a ball with her zebra-fleece blanket and cuddle. I don’t get that often-even from my neurotypical kids- and I treasure those moments. When she is fascinated by what seems to be the mundane, she slows me down and helps me to see art. She shows me the lights and the colors dancing, music thumping, trees swaying. It doesn’t take much to make her happy. She’s not begging me for the newest toy on the market. She just longs to connect with her world in its most natural state-to feel her bare feet against the earth, to dip her fingers into the lake, to spend hours in the tub, to run a fork under water, to listen to the same song over and over again.

It also gives me great joy to watch other children and adults connect with her. Those children and adults are rare. But when they reach out and touch her, or stoop down to her level and say hi, or swing her around and pick her up, or bounce her on her knee, or talk to her because she is listening, that is truly beautiful.

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Has autism affected your faith? How?

Katie: Yes. Autism has affected my faith. I was never angry at God or shaking my fist at him. But autism has showed me more about God’s image. If He created June in His image, then I am seeing a different part of God that I’ve never seen before. June is pointing me toward the beauty of nature, music and art and I am listening. I also see the body of Christ standing around June and our family to uphold and support us. We couldn’t do it well alone. I have also seen my husband in a different light. He is the most patient person I know when it comes to June. And the way he loves her reminds me of the way God loves me. Unconditionally and fully, deeply.

 

 

Autism Moms Interview #2 Lorna Bradley

Our second interview for the FIN Autism Moms Blog Series is with Dr. Lorna Bradley.  Lorna lives in Texas and is the author of the inspiring book, Special Needs Parenting; From Coping to Thriving.  If you attended That All May Worship-2015, you may remember Lorna for her fun stories and easy manner.  I am amazed at  her enthusiasm and energy.  (She runs marathons for fun!)  Thank you Rev. Bradley for participating in our Blog Series and for all you do as an Autism Mom.

Interview with: Rev. Dr. Lorna Bradley

Position/Title: Fellow, Hope and Healing Institute, //hopeandhealingcenter.org/about-us/hope-healing-institute/

Question: How old was your child when he/she was diagnosed with autism?  Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?

Lorna: Our diagnosis journey is a bit different than some.  We started when my son, Craig was around 4. His behaviors told a mother’s heart that something was not right. His initial diagnosis was ADHD, but I knew it was more than that.  Then came obsessive compulsive disorder, and Tourettes, and dysgraphia, and other diagnoses related to memory and language processing. ASD came up along the way, I asked about it.  I was told had too much empathy to have ASD. Ultimately, a diagnostician in high school said to just start over from scratch with his testing.  That is when we had the diagnosis on the autism spectrum, Aspergers (which apparently now is no longer a diagnosis.) Each time we would get a new diagnosis I had a sense of, “I guess this is what we call it for now.” He is still my son.  Nothing changes with the new name.

Question: How has living with autism affected your family? (immediate or extended)

Lorna: Within the immediate family, just me and my husband, it has been okay.  We have to try to be on the same page.  Our son can really push our buttons so we have perfected tag-team parenting. We know when the other needs a break.  A times the tension between my husband and son has been really high.  It would basically drive me out of the house.  I couldn’t stand to be around it.  Once they realized how negative it was for me they really improved how they communicate.  We are on the same page about dreaming of possibilities for our son’s future and doing all that we can to equip him.  Per extended family, some grandparents “get” our son and others don’t.  We don’t spend a whole lot of time with the ones who don’t.

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?

Lorna: Right now I am concerned for my son’s future employment and relationships.  He really wants to have a girlfriend, but it will take finding just the right person.  I admire his perseverance. A job search presents similar concerns.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

Lorna: My son is about to graduate from college, a day we barely dared to dream of years ago!

Question: Has autism affected your faith?  If yes, how so?

Lorna: I think autism has made my faith stronger.  I look for how God has created healing apart from a cure.  God is faithful.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?

Lorna: I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  My son without ASD would not be the same person he is now.  Wishing away the ASD is like wishing away the child (young man) that I know and love. The best thing that I can do for him is to help equip him to work with the skills and abilities that he has and flourish with those.  We’ve got to bloom where we are planted!

You can hear Lorna’s 5 Minute That All May Worship-2015 Video Presentation at http://www.faithinclusionnetwork.org/videos-that-all-may-worship-guest-speakers/ and learn more about Lorna and her work at specialneedsparenting.me

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Special Audience Night with the Virginia International Tattoo

On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at 7:30 pm a large part of the Hampton Roads Disability Community will come together to participate in one of our area’s biggest and most celebrated performances of the spring season.  At the Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA the Virginia International Tattoo will perform its final dress rehearsal for a very special audience; people with special needs and their caregivers and families.  http://www.vafest.org/tattoo-home

The following was the curtain call/welcoming speech for this event a few years ago.  It explains a bit more about the performance and why FIN is a part of this spectacular event.

The Tattoo has become, for our community, an opportunity to experience the highest level of performance from musicians from Virginia, the United States and around the world. Tonight you will see and hear performers from our local community alongside people from Canada, New Zealand,and Sweden, to name a few.
One of the things I love about the Tattoo is not only the diversity of the people involved but how they learn, in such a very short time, to work together. They have had to break down language barriers and make efforts to understand different cultures. They have also most likely had to learn how to make accommodations for each other and to appreciate the different yet significant talents they all bring to the overall performance.
As director of the non-profit, Faith Inclusion Network, I am excited about the contribution that our organization is making in Hampton Roads to bring together our community.

Karen and Samantha Jackson with husband and father, Scott Jackson, Producer and Director of the VA International Tattoo

Karen and Samantha Jackson with husband and father, Scott Jackson, Producer and Director of the VA International Tattoo

Just like members of the 2014 Virginia International Tattoo cast, we strive to break down barriers and appreciate differences. We provide opportunities for our faith communities to come together in a show of cooperation and unity, providing people of different abilities a place to share their gifts and talents as part of the life of a congregation- teaching faith communities how to be truly inclusive of persons who may have disabilities, but who also have so much to share and offer their community.
And so I thank the Virginia Arts Festival, Scott Jackson, the producer and director of the Tattoo, Christine Foust, Education Director and all the volunteers from Faith Inclusion Network that greeted you as you came in tonight and everyone here this evening, for being a part of “Special Audience Night” at the Virginia International Tattoo. This is a night for people with special needs, their families and caregivers to relax and enjoy a world-class performance. It is also a night to recognize and celebrate our differences and come together as a strong, accepting, and welcoming community.

If you haven’t been, we urge you to consider the opportunity.  Free vouchers can be obtained by contacting Nikki Nieves at the Virginia Arts Festival at 757-605-3078. Hope to see you on the 19th!-K. Jackson

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Autism Moms Interview #1 Karen Jackson

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On the Eve of World Autism Day and the start of April, Autism Awareness Month, I hope this is the beginning of a meaningful series of interviews with autism moms. So many woman are doing wonderful, courageous and creative things and I hope to highlight some of that this month through our FIN Blog.
To start the ball rolling, so to speak, I begin by interviewing myself. A bit unorthodox, yes, but it was a very interesting exercise and I am always glad to share about what it is like to be an autism mom.
If you have not been contacted yet and would like to contribute, please email Karen at http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com

Interview: Karen F. Jackson
Position/Title: Executive Director of Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads and Author of Loving Samantha

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?
Karen: Samantha was first diagnosed with a “communication disorder” between two and three years old. What I learned later was that autism is a communication disorder-our doctor was just very conservative in making the autism diagnosis in early years.
As it became more and more obvious Samantha was different than other children (no talking, unusual sensory behaviors), I was extremely anxious and stressed most of the time. I worked hard to learn everything I could about autism, cried a lot and spent most of my waking hours chasing after a very active child.
Question: How has living with autism affected your family?
Karen: Samantha has two brothers, an older one and a younger one. They are both incredible young men who are very protective of their sister. As siblings to Samantha, they have had to sacrifice time and attention, especially from me as their mother. They are both strong advocates not only for their sister, but for anyone who has challenges.
As far as marriage goes, I am not going to paint a perfect picture-autism, and any other severe disability can challenge even the strongest of marriages. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is committed to our relationship and to being a great father. We will no doubt continue to have our ups and downs, but we are happy overall. In fact, this August we will celebrate our 24th anniversary!

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?
Karen: At this point, I would say the biggest challenge is preparing for the transition to adulthood, particularly life after high school. The uncertainty of what Samantha will do, and will it be meaningful to her, has caused me considerable anxiety as of late. We are working as a family to figure this all out though and I am hopeful we will come through the transition with positive outcomes.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?
Karen: My greatest joy is watching the ways Samantha continues to learn and grow more independent. She surprises me with the smallest of things. Just the other day, I smiled as I watched her flip her shirt around the correct way to put on by herself. Even a year ago she could not always do this correctly. I am joyful about her progress, however big or small.

Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?
Karen: Since I went as far as writing a book about Samantha and our faith journey, I guess the answer to this question would have to be a resounding, yes! I believe that autism has had a profound effect on my faith. It has led me to depend on God to sustain me through the most difficult of parenting challenges. I am sure that living this type of parenting journey would not be possible for me without an active prayer life, support of my faith community and many friends of faith.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?
Karen: Just to let all autism moms know that they are strong and amazing. Whether they are quietly taking care of their child at home, advocates in their local community or throughout the country, moms raising children with autism are doing great things but are also in need of your love, support and understanding.
The nicest thing people can say to me is- “You are doing a good job.” I am not always doing a good job, but I am trying and it is very encouraging to hear the affirmation of that sometimes. So, if you know an autism mom, please take a moment this month to encourage her!

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