ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Saturday, July 15, 2006: 10:00 AM-11:15 AM
Narragansett Ballroom B
#1792- The Role Of Spirituality In The Lives Of Individuals With Asperger's Syndrome
This presentation examines the results of a qualitative study that explored the topic of spirituality and religion for eight adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. During focus groups and interviews, individuals discussed the role of spirituality/ religion in their lives and discussed how they felt their disability affected their spiritual/ religious beliefs. This session also provides information on 1) the implications of spirituality/ religion for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, and 2) how to promote and provide spiritually sensitive supports in the community

Presenters:Janet E. Graetz, Doctor, of, Philosophy, Oakland University, Assistant Professor of Special Education - Dr. Graetz received her doctoral degree in Special Education from George Mason University. She has more than 20 years of classroom experience teaching students with severe disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Currently, she is an assistant professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan where she teaches graduate students in autism. Her research interests include the use of visuals for individuals with autism and the lives of adults on the autism spectrum. Presentations: Autism Society of Michigan Conference (October 2005) START Conference on Autism (April 2005) Council for Exceptional Children (April 2005) American Education Research Association (April 2005)

Nick Dubin, M.Ed., Psy.S, Michigan School of Professional Psychology, Doctoral Student in Psychology - Nick Dubin is a doctoral student in psychology. He has published a book about Asperger's Syndrome and Bullying and 2 DVD's through Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Mr. Dubin has presented at ASA, keynoted for the ASA of Michigan conference in 2005 as well as presented at 40 other conferences and workshops.

Session Content Plan

Content: This study explored the following research questions: 1) How do individuals with Aspeger's Syndrome describe the concepts of spirituality and religion? 2) What role do spiritual and religious beliefs and practices play in the life of the individual with Aseperger's Syndrome, 3) Do individuals with Asperger's Syndrome believe that the presence of Asperger's has influenced their ideas regarding spirituality/ religion? 4) How can families/ community organizations contribute to the enhancement of an individual's spiritual well-being? This presentation examines the results of a qualitative study that examined the personal perspective of the role of spirituality / religion in the lives of adults with Asperger's Syndrome. Themes resulting from the participants' comments will be discussed. These themes include social well-being, emotional well-being, family interactions, and the concept of good and evil/ right and wrong. In addition, the presenters will examine the commonalities of these beliefs among individuals on the spectrum noting the relationship between a person's belief system and his or her autism. Themes will also be discussed in terms of the quality of life for the individual with autism and whether or not the presence or absence of spirituality/ religion actually affects happiness and overall well-being. Mr. Nick Dubin, a young man with Asperger's Syndrome, will share his beliefs regarding spirituality and religion and discuss there influence in his life. The session will also review resources that families, religious organizations, and disability organizations can access to assist those individuals with Asperger's Syndrome seeking spiritual/ religious supports.

Audience: This presentation would benefit parents and caretakers, psychologists, social workers, teachers,religious clergy, and individuals on the spectrum themselves.

Learning Objectives: 1. Attendees will gain information about the spiritual/ religious beliefs of individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. 2. Individuals will gain knowledge as to how they can most effectively integrate those on the Autism Spectrum into the religious community. 3. Individuals will learn how Autism might help to shape one's belief system. 4. Individuals will gain the firsthand spiritual perspective of an “Aspie”, Nick Dubin.

Contributions to Best Practices: This presentation examines the personal perspective of individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. While past research has explored spirituality and religion for individuals with cognitive impairments, limited research exists regarding the beliefs of adults with Asperger's Syndrome. Many individuals on the Autism Spectrum have expressed a feeling of isolation from the church or their respective religious institutions. For that reason, there is a need to inform parents and caretakers, psychologists, social workers, and teachers about the role of spirituality/ religion in the lives of these individuals. Religion is frequently defined as the institutionalized and organized patterns of beliefs, rituals, and social structures that people create to fulfill a spiritual quest. Spirituality may or may not be explained through religion. Data from this study indicate that some individuals with Asperger's Syndrome find themselves aligned to the rituals and structure of organized religion while others pursue spirituality far from the mainstream. The inclusion of individuals on the autism spectrum into religious educational settings may promote emotional and social well-being and a sense of connectedness. Best practices evaluate strategies that lead to fulfilled individuals. For that reason, the inclusion of spirituality and/ or religion in the lives of the individual with Asperger's Syndrome needs to be addressed. Research has consistently revealed a generally positive association between spirituality and mental health. A recent study reviewed nearly 1,000 studies that revealed that spirituality in one's life was associated with life satisfaction, happiness, hope, and self-esteem and decreased levels of anxiety. Are these findings the same for an individual with Asperger's Syndrome? Other studies have found that the use of ‘spiritual tools' (prayer, worship) had a positive effect on individuals with developmental disabilities. Are those same spiritual tools important for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome? Best practices also promote connecting the individual with Asperger's to his/ her community. The development of the social network through a church/ synagogue/ place of worship may provide more opportunities for the individual with Asperger's Syndrome.

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