An interview with Karla Akins, Author of A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting
By Ron Sandison
1. What were the first signs your twin boys had autism?
The twins cried and screamed constantly. They bit one another mercilessly from the time they could crawl. They were very unhappy all the time. As they got a little older, I noticed they didn’t play imaginatively or interact with one another other than to bite each other. They didn’t calm like typical babies. At first, I thought it was because they were premature.
2. How has autism effected each of your boys differently?
Both boys started out as severely autistic. Today they are on the mild end of the spectrum but they each have different ways of displaying their autism. One has a lot more echolalia. He likes to spell out what he’s talking about when he’s excited. Mainly pets and people’s names. The other gets very stuck and won’t let issues go when he is obsessed – usually when he’s upset. Both boys do get “stuck” sometimes, but one more than the other. Both are rigid in schedule and like to know what’s coming next in their schedule. They do so much better now with change, but they still have some anxiety around changes in schedule.
3. What advice do you give to parents whose child was recently diagnosed with autism?
Breathe. Celebrate your child’s strengths and work with them. Your child is not their label. They have so many gifts inside waiting to be unwrapped! Give yourself time to grieve or handle this in any way you can. Take time for yourself. Talk about it. Don’t worry about what people think. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to process the diagnosis. And remember, your child is still your child. They just have a name now for the way they interact with the world.
4. What has been your greatest struggle raising twins on the spectrum?
I think the greatest struggle is having to be on constant alert. I can never let my guard down. My ears are always open to what’s going on. I’m constantly aware of where they are and making sure they are safe or not getting into things they shouldn’t. They can’t be left alone for more than a few minutes, so the constant care giving can be taxing. My husband and I don’t get to go out alone very often. It’s hard to find time to be alone with my husband and just go somewhere because we feel like it. Even though they’re 23, they still need protection and supervision.
5. How has home schooling helped your sons develop social skills?
Home schooling helped them learn important social skills in the “hidden curriculum.” We are blessed that the twins were good imitators. They learned to say certain phrases that were appropriate. They didn’t receive any social skills intervention in the public schools, and that is, in my opinion, more important than any other skill to learn. Because they were with us constantly, we were able to guide them in appropriate behavior all the time.
6. What are some lessons God has taught you through autism?
I learned to wrestle with God and that He can handle my hard questions. It’s not like He doesn’t already know what I’m thinking! I also learned that God is always up to something good, even when we don’t think He is or realize He is. He has a perfect plan for our lives, and we can trust Him even when the pieces don’t fit.
7. What inspired you to write your book A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting?
I first started out writing the book because I wanted parents to have high expectations of their children with autism. Not all children with autism make progress, but many do with the right interventions. Also, as I worked with children and families with autism, I saw a tendency for parents not to expect positive and appropriate behavior from their child. While disciplining a child with autism looks different than disciplining a typical child, children with autism can still learn appropriate behavior and learn how to be socially appropriate. But the book turned out to be so much more than that. It turned out that it’s helped people from all walks of life learn how to walk with God in victory.
8. Only 30% of people on the autism spectrum are employed. How have you helped your sons achieve employment?
I widened our network of support. I do have the twins involved in Vocational Rehabilitation which helped them find jobs. Besides that, we always taught them to be servants in every walk of life, because that is what Jesus has called all of us to be. They have learned so many skills working with their dad, from how to interact with people at church, to laying floors and carpentry, to landscaping.
9. What skills were essential for your sons to experience employment? And how did you help them learn these skills?
I think the most important skills are how to interact socially and appropriately. They also needed to learn a work ethic. I’m not sure work ethic can be taught. It’s caught. But it’s also something you are born with. So, I don’t know who to credit that with. They needed to be able to be respectful. That is why social skills are so important for these kids to learn. I wish the schools would emphasize it more. You can have a Harvard degree but if you can’t get along with people, you’re not going to be able to keep a job for very long.
10. How would you encourage a mom or dad who is feeling hopeless due to their child’s autism diagnosis and how to deal with meltdowns?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Autism is hard. I know nowadays there is the celebration of neurodiversity, and that’s wonderful. But the higher functioning adult autism community needs to recognize the fatigue and burnout parents experience. Especially for parents of children who have more issues. One of the things I did to cope was to always find something positive about the situation. Sometimes the only positive thing I could think of when I woke up to feces all over the walls and constant screaming was that the boys weren’t triplets. But that’s what I’d tell myself. I’d also praise God I was raising them in the United States and not some third-world country.
We do have many blessings and if we focus on them, we will be so much better for it. But I did experience meltdowns myself as a parent. Especially when they were little. I would go in the bathroom and just sob. I don’t know what I’d have done without the Lord to lean on. Sometimes it felt like He wasn’t there. But He was. And that’s a huge part of the book – it is a book of encouragement of how to lean on the Lord for every breath. I know the deepest sorrow and the most harrowing of anxiety and hopelessness, but I got through it by the grace of God. There’s always hope in Him. God has a plan not only for the parent but for the child. We can trust that plan. It’s not by our might our power, though, that we get through it with victory. It’s by the power of His Holy Spirit. The twins’ success is evidence that God is gracious!
11. What are some activities your sons currently do for fun?
The twins love to travel with their Dad. They enjoy cooking and being with friends. They are always up for new adventures, which is amazing, because new adventures terrified them when they were younger. Now they love doing new things with us. They also enjoy their pets: two cats, two dogs, and two rats.
12. Please share a humorous story.
The twins are very literal, as many people with autism are. When we send them to the store, if we aren’t extremely specific, we literally pay for it. One Thanksgiving I sent Isaiah to the store for two large cans of pineapple. He brought home two gallon cans. Yesterday, I asked them to get some banana taffy, specifically, Laffy Taffy. But, I wasn’t specific enough, because they brought home $10.00 worth from a bulk bin. One time they brought home five bunches of bananas instead of five bananas. Never a dull moment around here!
Karla Akins is co-minister at Christian Fellowship Church in North Manchester, Indiana, with her husband, Eddie. She has over thirty years in ministry, and nearly four decades of teaching experience in homeschooling, private school, and public education. Her previous work includes The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots.
A Pair of Miracles book is on Amazon.
Karla Akins website: http://karlaakins.com
You can contact her at email@example.com.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a Board Member with The Art of Autism and an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron on his website spectruminclusion.com or email Ron at Sandison456@hotmail.com.