Grant Encourages Autism Awareness in LCMS Schools

Megan K. Mertz

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Aaron Likens received the 2012 Champion of Mental Health Award for Missouri for his work in autism awareness.

After a lifetime of being a little bit “different,” Aaron Likens, the son of an LCMS pastor, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome — an autism spectrum disorder — in 2003 at the age of 20. Suddenly, there was an explanation for his difficulty in social situations, his repetitive behavior and his preoccupation with the weather and auto racing, among other things.

The diagnosis led Likens on a journey to explain his experiences. He wrote the book Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger’s Syndrome and became an autism ambassador and community-education specialist for TouchPoint Autism Service, St. Louis.

In April 2012, Likens embarked on a month-long “Autism Understanding and Awareness Tour,” sponsored in part by LCMS School Ministry.

“Since one in about every 88 students in the U.S. are affected by autism spectrum disorder, our Lutheran schools are in wonderfully unique positions to welcome these special children into our ministries. Aaron Likens will bring valuable information to anyone with a passion of serving all of God’s children,” said Dr. Steven Buuck, CEO of Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School in Las Vegas, who heard Likens speak during the 2012 tour.

“We have to serve all kinds of kids in our Lutheran schools, and we need to encourage Lutheran educators to embrace these students and help them utilize their amazing gifts.” —Terry Schmidt, director of LCMS School Ministry

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Aaron Likens received the 2012 Champion of Mental Health Award for Missouri for his work in autism awareness.

This year, LCMS School Ministry engaged Likens for another tour, giving him a $3,500 grant to speak to the graduates of the LCMS School Leadership Development Program before embarking on a 16-stop tour of LCMS schools, colleges and universities in October.

“Every Lutheran school teacher has had students like this in the classroom,” said Terry Schmidt, director of LCMS School Ministry. “We have to serve all kinds of kids in our Lutheran schools, and we need to encourage Lutheran educators to embrace these students and help them utilize their amazing gifts. Unlocking their gifts is not only a service to society but it’s a service to our church.”

Learn more about Likens and his 2012 speaking tour.

Megan K. Mertz is a staff writer for LCMS Communications.

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