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A Statement of Faith

I have found over the course of coping with autism, that the core elements of my religious faith have been very helpful. I use them to sustain me through the trials of having to teach every little skill to my two boys who were born without the normal built-in abilities to learn. I use them to help me understand why they are here, what the purpose of their lives are, and how to love them. Most significantly, I use my faith to help me understand how to apply teaching procedures in such a manner that respects their basic right to choose what and how much they will learn. And to help me love them no matter what they do or decide. For those who are interested, here are my core beliefs that have helped me adapt the teaching principles in what I believe to be an ethical and Christ-like way.

  1. I believe that every person came to this earth as part of a plan, not as an historical accident. I believe that each of us are here to be tested as to whether we will follow God's laws, and to learn from our experiences and mistakes so that we can appreciate God's wisdom and mercy. I use this paradigm when teaching using ABA, in helping my children experience consequences and learn from their mistakes.

  2. I believe that every one of us came to earth with strengths and weaknesses--some visible, some not. It is our opportunity to have weaknesses to understand mercy, learn compassion, and gain wisdom through working to overcome the weaknesses. Right now, if you are the parent of a newly diagnosed child, you may feel like your child is broken. The trauma of autism as it is presented to you may feel like a life sentence with a vegetative being of unreachable potential. It may have affected how you look at your child. For me, the trauma of the diagnosis process and the first year of therapy robbed me of my ability to see my son's humanity. He ceased to be my son, and became this autistic thing that I had to fix. I hated autism. When my third son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, I was close to losing my mind. If it hadn't been for my parents taking us in to their home, with their infinite capacity to love unconditionally, I think I might have snapped. The most important thing that I did was change MY behavior, and begin to connect with my child. It became my goal in life to see him smile. As he did, my love for him grew, and I fixed MY weakness.
  3. I believe that every person is born with a divine right to choose what they make of themselves, no matter what their flaws. I do not believe that being born with autism exempts a person from this basic human right. Because of this fundamental belief, I do not believe in forcing a child to learn. I believe in guiding learners through thoughtful application of antecedents and consequences that keep intact the learner's basic right to choose, and recognizes their status as a son or daughter of God, equal to me in every way. I believe that the ultimate outcome of educational intervention is a combination of choice, opportunity, and ability. It is to provide the opportunity to learn that I feel is my responsibility as a parent.

    What does this mean as far as behavior management is applied? For me, It means that I am very careful in choosing when to apply compliance procedures that give my children no other choice but to obey. My guidelines for strict compliance protocols include evaluating the behavior in terms of the child's personal safety, the safety of others, and the generally accepted guidelines of the behavior of polite society.

  4. I believe that "pairing with positive reinforcement" is on the surface, a neat behavioral trick, potentially lacking the one fundamental element that makes it sincere and most powerful--unconditional love. When we pair our teaching with genuine love and acceptance of the humanity and rights of the learner, we will be able to plan our teaching moments in a way that promote the learner's desire to be around us, and by association, other people. Love, respect and acceptance are great tools for increasing social skills. They prevents us from behaving in a way as to be so intent on making the child learn, that we destroy the foundation for desiring social contact--the pleasure of being enjoyed for who you are, no matter what your weaknesses or behaviors.

  5. I also believe that the gains one makes in life are not the sum of one's achievement. I believe that God makes us more after death--that he strengthens our weaknesses, heals our minds and hearts, and indeed will make us and our children whole. I have every hope for love, happiness, and learning for them, whether in this life or the next. I love and enjoy them as they are. I hope to be worthy of the gifts they have given me by their precious lives. They are precious beyond price--worth more, perhaps, by the very effort that it takes to raise them.
  6. Thank you for letting me share my personal beliefs, in addition to the teaching tips and educational materials, on this site. For more information about the religion that guides me, I refer you to the website The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka "The Mormon Church."

    May God bless you and yours, and may your faith, whatever it may be, guide and sustain you through your challenges.

    Juliet Burk

Revised 8/30/04