Asbergers Dad

Our eldest son was diagnosed with a form of autism called High-Function Asperger’s when he was 11. Without going into a thorough history of Aspergers and where the phrase comes from, people with Aspergers tend to be seen as odd and have difficulties understanding common communication. They don’t understand facial expressions and sometimes come across as excessive in their behaviour and clumsy in how they do things. Forgetful, perhaps – or, more accurately, lost in a world where things like ‘keys’ are not that important. 🙂 Certain social conventions are missing, and they either never have these, or ‘tack them on’ through training later in life.

Another example – non-Aspergers people (Aspergers call these people ‘neuro-typical’) develop the ability to understand facial expressions when they are around four or five years old. However – if you have Asperger’s, you don’t ever acquire this naturally, but you can get software in which Daniel Radcliffe shows you around 50 facial expressions, and you can – over time, and with an algorithm – learn to recognise what each facial expression means.

The High-Function form of Asperger’s means that as well as having your ‘brain wired differently’, you are also very bright. This intelligence means that you can hide some of the characteristics of how your brain is wired differently through training and always thinking twice before you do anything. It’s a bit like always speaking in a foreign language – you are doing a lot of things with your brain at the same time to appear ‘normal’, and this can tire you out.

I guess some people have always been like this – now we have a label to describe it.

When Joshua was diagnosed, we cried, but we have come to see that Joshua is quite a unique and a very, very gifted person.

He had difficult times at school because people did not understand him and how he was different, but the more he specialises in life, the less important the ‘differences from normal’ become, and the ‘brilliant extreme’ that he is becomes more valuable. Now he is a Grantham Scholar and currently working on a PhD in extreme climate change.

This article however, is not about Joshua. It’s more about me – his dad – and people who judge.

When Joshua was diagnosed, the people at the hospital pointed out that Joshua would go on to be very successful in a niche field in which he would probably become an expert. He would have some close friends, but they would be hard to make. In fact, said the Doctors, just like his dad, who also is High-Function Asperger’s.

Up until that time, I did not know that I was also a High-Function Asperger, but as we researched this for Joshua , I realised more and more the truth of this, and although I can do a lot of things like other ‘neuro-typical’ people, some things still defeat me. Not because I don’t try, but because I can’t ever do them – my brain is not wired that way. You might as well tell a man with a limp to walk straight. The problem with Aspergers is. the ‘limp’ is inside the brain – so many do not realise it is there at all, and never make any adjustments for it.

Let’s talk about language – which is actually very important. But to talk about language, I need to digress into history. Let’s go back 200 years to the time when a certain section of society was persecuted for being different. I am talking about people who were left-handed. These days we see left-handedness as just an attribute of a person, but a few hundred years ago, it was not seen as that. It was seen as a sign of evil. There are many stories of people, alive even now, who had left-handedness beaten out of them when they were children. They ‘suffered’ from left-handedness. We look back and think that is terrible, that the loving church of Jesus would never do that, but actually the church was no different from any other section of society, and many Christians at the time quoted ‘the right handed mess of God’

Now let’s turn back to Aspergers – and for this next bit I have to thank Joshua for explaining this to me.

People no more ‘suffer’ from Asperger’s than they ‘suffer’ from left-handedness or being white or black.

‘People are Aspergers’ is the phrase Joshua (and others who are Aspergers) ask us to use. It’s now the preferred way of describing people who are brain-wired like this.

Let’s talk about distractions.

People used to complain to me that Joshua would put them off by reading or walking around during worship and sermons. ‘How can he concentrate on the Lord whilst he is reading?’ they would say. ‘How can he be listening to the sermon?’

I would patiently explain that Joshua’s brain was wired differently from theirs, and what looks like normal behaviour in their children would be abnormal behaviour in Joshua. We should no more tell an Asperger off for distracting people by walking around in their own world than we should tell off a man with a damaged leg for limping.

By the way – if you are reading this and realise you’ve said this to me, let me just say we forgive you completely and love you completely. It doesn’t matter. Love covers all. I used to think the same as you until the hospital explained it to me, so I can’t judge.

These days. I see lots of people whose behaviour I would have judged previously, but who I can now see are ‘brain-wired differently’ and mainly need love. Love that is not a ‘social worker project’ but genuine love from one sinner to another.

Let’s talk about judging and loving

If you can see all that, let me now move on to some other things for Christians to ‘see’.

  • People who are Aspergers don’t want to be ‘healed’. To be ‘healed’ would be to remove the main essence of who they are. Would you pray to heal someone of being left-handed? Or black?
  • People who are Aspergers don’t even need to be understood better – in church, they just need to be loved and not judged. If there was ever a place where people could be loved and not judged, it should be the church of Jesus. Sadly its more usually the other way round. Jesus loves us all unconditionally – we don’t follow his example.

I guess what I want is people I spend time with not to assume they know why I do things unless they ask me and get a clear answer. I think I can be approached. I simply don’t do things for the same reasons others would do them. Don’t see me doing something and think ‘If I did that it would be attention seeking behavoir therefore that must be why he or she does it’. Why not give it a go and ask ‘Why did you do that?’

To judge Aspergers for their behaviour before asking them why they do things the way they do is, I believe, the sin that Jesus was talking about when he said, ‘Do not judge.’

Matthew 7:1–2 (NIV) : “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you

John 7:24 (NIV) : Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

I honestly believe that the church will change the world when all Christians (inc leaders) stop judging people and show love instead.

1 Cor 13:5 (NIV) : Love … keeps no record of wrong-doings.

I’m really starting to get tired of people bringing up what I did 5 years ago as though it was yesterday and not believing people can change.

For Asbergers, the challenge of fitting in at school (where you are different and judged) , becomes the challenge of fitting in at church (where you are different and judged)

Let’s talk about crowds.

I know this is hard for people who know me to believe is true, but I really don’t like crowds. Crowds are not the same as a church where I am preaching. I know how churches behave – even ones where the Holy Spirit is moving 🙂

I know how they behave and I know how I am to behave. I’ve learnt those rules and can operate in them.

Crowds are really different. I don’t know if my behaviour is good or bad. Am I loud or too quiet? Am I popping up everywhere? Am I ‘in your face’? If you are not an Asperger, you learn how to see facial feedback on this by how people react and what their emotions are – which you can face-read. If you are an Asperger, you are lost – a lone person in the crowd; a stranger in a strange land. That’s why you will see me sometimes ‘stick’ to my wife Merle at parties – She is my only protection.

I love being invited to parties (I want to be popular), but I hate going to them!

Even the ‘mill-around’ after church when people are talking to each other is a challenge. If there was a church full of Aspergers, they wouldn’t have coffee afterwards – not unless it was arranged better.

I have a friend who has a T-shirt that simply says, ‘Sorry I’m late – I didn’t want to come.’

Did you know that Asbergers are sometimes accussed of being ‘stand offish’ and at the same time also as ‘too friendly- always hanging around when not wanted – always in your face – always popping up’ – perhaps now you can understand more of. why.

Let’s talk about changing the world.

Let’s go back to that date when Joshua was diagnosed. When I talked with Dr Harpin at the hospital, I asked her for feedback on how I planned to explain all this to my 11-year-old boy. I went through how I would put it:

  • Your brain is wired differently – which is good news and bad news.
  • The good news is that you will have superpowers that no one else has, but also weaknesses that others don’t have.
  • The bad news is you will feel and behave differently from other – average – people.
  • Never call them ‘normal’ and yourself ‘not normal’. They are average and you are exceptional.
  • The bad news is that they will judge you and probably bully you for being different.
  • The good news is you are very bright, so that will help.
  • The good news is that the older you get, the more what you specialise in will matter and the less fitting in will matter.
  • The good and bad news is you will always see the world differently.

‘How does that sound?’ I asked Dr Harpin. ‘Fine,’ she said. ‘Just add….

“The good news is people like Joshua can change the world because Joshua can see the world from the outside.”’

It reminded me of Jesus – who also sees the world from the outside.

Resurrection In Progress – Ray Booth

A great man 

On Monday, it was Dr Martin Luther King day – for my American friends it was a time to reflect on the legacy of a great man. It was also the day, here in Sheffield we said goodbye to our good friend Ray Booth who recently passed – also a great man.
I listened to the service broadcast from the local church where Ray and I were both members together for many years. (I was not able to attend due to lockdown) and I listened to his wife, Jean, his family, his children and grandchildren all talk and give thanks about a man that I also knew but nothing like as well as they did.

I felt encouraged

What struck me was how often the word ‘ an encourager’ was used.
I remember this myself, many years ago when I felt completely useless for anything. I was just recovering from a minor breakdown, at the end of a tough time in the junior leadership of the church we were in. In reality,  I should not have been left in that tough position for so long, but at the end of that I was exhausted and I had lost hope.
In the middle of that, Ray asked me to travel with him on a trip to Denmark. I’ll leave the full details out for today – but the trip, Ray’s encouragement of me as a person, and the circumstances of that trip moved me from feeling useless to useful, and opened up a door to some major parts of what I now do in the church.
In that trip, he introduced me to Frank and Elisabeth, and soon after Kim and Sus. – great friends and a great church. It’s true to stay that Livets Kilde was pivotal and primary in Merle and I understanding our ministry and purpose. Frank and the team there encouraged me in hearing God and seeing that as something I was called to, gave me space, encouraged me to start writing books, did my first ever translation of a book into another language… I could go on.

One of Ray’s daughters – I think – in the service quoted Maya Angelou :
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Ray made me feel useful again. He gave me hope in that trip that all was not lost for me.

A Voice of Wisdom for 25 years

I realised as I listened – that whilst I didn’t spend a lot of time with Ray, compared to others – there were several critical moments where Ray’s advice changed my life. In Proverbs 12:15, it says “a wise man listens to advice”, and I always sought Ray’s advice when having to plot some of myself and Merle’s ‘big moves’ in life, such as :
  • Starting my business
  • Leaving City Church Sheffield leadership
  • Leaving City Church Sheffield,
  • Joining Meadowhead Christian Fellowship
  • Expanding my travelling to what it is now
  • Moving on from Meadowhead Christian Fellowship 15 years later
  • Helping to found Wellspring Church Sheffield
  • Moving on from Wellspring Church
  • Becoming part of the team here at The Well
For all of these major events – and others – I consulted and listened to Ray for over 25 years. Let me just briefly mention one.
Once, I was struggling on a leadership team and wondering what to do with my life and my ministry. I wanted to serve but didn’t fit in. I’ve learnt now to see that fitting in is just a way of being driven by man’s praise – God has made me unique for a reason- but then I didn’t understand that. I felt pulled in so many directions.
At that time Ray gave me the best piece of advice I think I have ever received, which I have used myself as advice many many times – even this week 20 years later on a coaching call with an executive at BP I used the story below and I was thanked for the ‘wonderful story and advice’ – Ray’s ‘wonderful story and advice’….

Where are the solid floorboards?

He talked about the time he would renovate a house, the first thing he would do when he looked around at the mess and see all the things that were wrong, was to look for the solid floorboards you could stand on. From there you could build more floorboards and then get to most of the places in the house.
“Ian”, he said, “in your current situation what are the rock-solid floorboards that you have that you can stand on?”
I knew the answer to this question – it was the house of the Lord had just allowed Merle and me to buy. As I thought about this ‘solid floorboard’, I found it easy to make the decision to move churches and start a long association with Meadowhead Christian Fellowship and Jonathan Dunning the leader there. We stayed at MCF for 13 years and our children grew up in that lovely church.

Thankful

I am incredibly thankful for the open door Ray, along with Jean gave us, and the encouragement of Merle and myself, when others didn’t. With so little of his time, he made such a big impact in my life and wonder how many others can say the same – probably thousands?
It is no hyperbole to say that like Dr King, Ray leaves behind a huge legacy for us all to be thankful for.
We pray for Jean and the family.

James Altucher – Fabulous article

I have no idea how to link to the original article, so I have put it here for all my friends to read and enjoy.Please google James and see his fabulous writing

This Is What Happens When You Try To Do the Impossible

by James Altucher 

Daniel was tending sheep in Sudan when a bomb blew both his arms off.

When he heard the bombs in the distance he had hidden behind a tree but wrapped his arms around the tree. A bomb went off near the tree and his body was safe.

But the arms he had wrapped around the tree blew off. When he came to, he said he wished he were dead so he would not be a burden on his family. He was 12 years old.

I was ashamed to be talking to Mick Ebeling.

Here’s why: when I hear the story above about Daniel I think: that’s really sad. I think: I wish that hadn’t happened to him. I think: I’m glad it didn’t happen to me or anyone I know.

Mick thinks differently. Mick flew over to the Sudan without any knowledge of arms or war or prosthetics. He got together a bunch of experts on 3D printing, prosthetics, mechanics.

He 3D printed arms for Daniel in a way that had never been done before, cheaper than prosthetics had ever been made before.

Daniel now has two prosthetic arms. He can feed himself. He can help his family again.

I spoke with Mick yesterday. I told him I was ashamed to be talking to him because I would not have thought that way.

He laughed and told me his theories on helping people. His company, “Not Impossible” ignores high stakes situations where people say “It’s impossible” and figures out how to make the situations possible.

Here’s how:

A) HELP ONE. HELP MANY. 

He used his experience with Daniel to come up with ideas on prosthetics that could help many people. He helped “Tempt”, a graffiti artist, use a machine Mick developed to create art again and communicate with people again.

Then he uses the experiences of helping one to create products that can help many.

B) BRING RIDICULOUS TO ACCESSIBLE

It was ridiculous to get cheap prosthetics to Daniel in the Sudan without any experience. And yet, just a little brainstorming with the right experts, gave Daniel arms. And now the same technology is accessible to anyone.

C) USE STORY

Intel sponsored Mick’s efforts. He went to Intel and told the story of Daniel and told the story of how he was already helping Daniel, with or without Intel, and Intel agreed to sponsor the rest of the journey.

For 5000 years or longer, humanity has driven forward with story-telling. Too many people forget that but the only way to really communicate effectively is through story.

D) EVERYONE HAS PERMISSION

Nobody gave Mick permission to help Daniel. He just did it. Nobody gave him permission to gather a bunch of experts to his house to help figure out how to create prosthetics that everyone said were impossible. He just did it.

Too often we apply for grants. Or we apply to a company. Or we apply to the government. And then we wait. And we wait. And we want that one special person to choose us.

I hate to use my own cliche, but the benefits of choosing yourself is that other people’s lives are saved while you avoid waiting for someone else to choose you.

E) “We’re already doing this”. 

Mick didn’t wait to begin. He didn’t wait for funding. He didn’t wait to figure it all out in advance before he started.

As soon as he committed to helping Daniel he immediately:

– found the experts he needed to talk to (free)

– got them all talking (mostly free)

– started brainstorming (free)

– got materials for one set of arms to be 3D printed (mostly free)

– began experimenting (mostly free)

Then he went to intel and others and said, “We’re already doing this. Are you in?”

Too many people say, “I have an idea. Now I need funding.”

Don’t do that anymore. Stop it!

Say instead, “I’m already doing this. Here’s the ten or twenty things I’ve done so far. Here’s the results. Are you in?”

F) CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF FAILURE

People think: go go go go go fail stop.

Mick redefined failure.

“We had many failures while trying to figure this out. But each failure was simply a way to show us what we should do what we could do better. Every time we failed we knew at least one thing we could do better.”

G) OPEN SOURCE YOUR SUCCESS

For everything Mick did, even though his company is for profit, he gave away for free all of the knowledge he learned.

Then other people companies could build better prosthetics, or tools for deaf people, or tools to help people with ALS communicate.

Then Mick would be able to incorporate those new technologies back into his products.

The end result: more people helped with better and better products that were being made cheaper and cheaper.

Too many people try to hold onto ideas saying, “it’s mine!”.

But ideas, and the world, get stronger when they are allowed to share and mate and grow children and the idea babies make the world better.

H) LOOK FOR THE ‘ADJACENT POSSIBLE’

When Mick started his research, he found someone who had made a mechanical hand. Not the perfect prosthetic hand. But a cheap hand that could grasp items and be functional.

He started with that and then began brainstorming with the inventor and with others about what else is possible – given that a simple mechanical hand was possible.

Never start with a blank page. Find all the things closest to what you want to be possible and use those ideas as starting points to find the next generation of possible.

I) START SMALL

Mick didn’t help a billion people have better prosthetics. He helped one person.

“If everyone would just help ONE person today then the world will be a better place tomorrow.”

In other words, if everyone reading this article would help one person today, the world will be a better place.

Always think at the end of each day, “who did I help today?”

J) STAND NEXT TO THE SMARTEST PEOPLE

Mick didn’t know anything about prosthetics. But he knew that if he brought together the man who made the cheap, mechanical hand, with experts in 3D printing, with experts in prosthetics, then something good could happen.

Even if you aren’t an expert, give yourself permission to be a producer. Produce!

After the podcast, Mick and I took a walk and I told him stuff.

“How are you dealing with that?” he asked me.

I said, “Every day I follow my own advice.

“I try to be healthy. I spend time with friends. I’m creative every day. And I look at the most difficult part of my situation every day and find things to be grateful for.

“This has been amazing for me to see it work in action for myself. I bounce back stronger every day and I feel like life is amazing.”

“You should write about that,” he said.

I will. I said, “Selfishly, I help one (me), to help many. “

He laughed at that. And we shook hands and then I went one direction and he went to save the world.

A prophetic dream for Sheffield

Last night at Greenhill Methodist Church, Neil Grant told a story of a friend who felt the need to shout “Wake Up” at an angel. It reminded me of a dream I had last year about our city. It was exciting to hear stories of other people who had similar experiences and words about waking up. When I had the dream I did not have any blogs or ways of sharing it – so I thought I would share it now
In the dream I saw the city of Sheffield like a map, from above. The city was in darkness. I could see that all over the city were these little lights. Almost like sparks going off. They would flare up for a few seconds, then die down. Flashes of light. I looked a little closer and saw that these lights were in buildings. Sometimes the lights were as big or bigger than the buildings. Sometimes the buildings were big, like towers, but the sparks were small.
I realised that the buildings were churches in Sheffield and the light represented the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of saints. I could see that some big buildings had little of the real presence of the Spirit, and this made me sad. The Lord said to me, “In some of the churches, my people are more interested in arguing than desiring my presence. In some, they are so proud of how big they are, I can’t get in. It’s not how big they are – it’s how proud they are. I oppose the proud.”
Then he said, “Watch how I am coming,” and I saw what looked like a wave of energy rising up from between the cracks in the ground. It started to rise up. As it did, the small sparks that earlier had been going on, then off, instead of going off, started to grow and spread across the city – almost fuelled by the energy. Instead of going out, these little sparks started to grow and grow. And as they grew, they started to meet each other. Whilst I saw this happen slowly so I could understand, I sensed in the Lord that it happened very quickly. I felt the Lord say, “Transformation happens slowly and then suddenly – I am waking up my church.” I said, “Lord, wake me up inside – bring me back to life.” As I said these words, I felt that I was one of the sparks that was being energised by God.
The Lord took me back up in the air and I could see that the city was no longer dark, but light. The light came from the ground up, and the whole map could not be seen, for the land was overtaken by brightness. The only thing I could see were towers that still were not covered in brightness. Then I felt the Lord say, “This is how it will be when my wave comes; I won’t choose one church over another. I have no favourites – I will come to all.”
As the dream finished I heard myself say again, “Lord, wake me up inside – bring me back to life.”
Have you had similar dreams or words that are the same? For Sheffield or for your own city? If so, please post a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
Ian
Ian lives and works in Sheffield, with his wife, Merle, his sons and a dog, and worships at Meadowhead Christian Fellowship. He is a christian author and blogs at ianbanner.com. To keep in touch with what Ian and Merle are doing click here

What do YOU do?

Its always nice when you do something for the first time….

Today I went to a new place for breakfast with my lovely family.  A friend worked there, so we decided to go and see what it was like. Merle had always wanted to visit anyway.

Our mutual friend introduced me to the owner, who asked me only one question, which was, “How long have you lived at your house?”. When I said, “Fifteen years”, he just said. “Wow”, then turned and said “Wow”, again to the wall.

I don’t think I have every been asked that question before (apart from on loan forms!) and it made me realise how sheltered/stable a life I lead.

I was being introduced to someone who, of all the questions to ask me, thought that was the most important. And he was a nice guy.

It made me think, ‘What question would you ask if you met someone for the first time?’ Apparently the Queen says, ‘What do you do?’