2018 – The Year of Lessons
This year God brought me a challenge…one that I never imagined would visit my family. Autism.
You see, I had waited for so long to conceive this child. I was getting on in years, and the pressure from everyone around to have another child was overwhelming, to say the least.
God, in his faithfulness, gave me another child. The first couple of years were great. He was the cutest baby, referred to as ‘mzungu’ by many. At one clinic visit, the nurse even asked if he was my biological son!
Fast forward to 2017. The milestones were not appearing at the times they should have, school was a challenge, and social skills were not too good. So we took the bold step and started the assessment process in early 2018. In a few months, we had our confirmed diagnosis. Autism.
For those who may not know how autism works, let me give you a sneak preview. A kid with autism may appear to live in their own world, take long to speak, take a while to master self-care skills like feeding and going to the toilet, lack concentration, find loud noises and bright lights overwhelming, have trouble socializing, and have meltdowns. It’s a world that we who are on the other side find it hard to understand.
Just a quick point- note that I said we who are on the OTHER side, not the RIGHT side. People with autism are talented and gifted differently – they are not abnormal.
So – now that we had the diagnosis, the grieving period began. You can imagine all my hopes and dreams for my little boy suddenly disappeared. As I thought about the long journey that lay ahead, I felt weak, hopeless and completely crushed.
Let me explain what happens when you get a diagnosis. You are given a long list of things that you must do for your child so that he or she is able to become independent and self-sufficient in a world that is not accepting of people who are different. You are then told that if you don’t start therapy (either occupational or speech therapy), your child will not be able to cope with the world when they are older. In short, your child’s future is in your hands.
Don’t get me wrong – all parents have their children’s futures in their hands. Parenting a child who is differently talented, however, is a 24-hour, 7-day a week job. Until the child becomes independent, he or she depends on his parents and caregivers for everything.
There is good news, however. The year is ending, and God has graciously seen me through several months of special needs parenting. It has not been easy, but the Lord has been there to guide and encourage me every step of the way. Let me share three things that I am grateful to the Lord for teaching me this year through my little boy.
Lesson number one: Focus on God, and he will keep my heart at peace as he works things out.
Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (NIV)
The Lord has taught me that when I focus on the ‘problem’, rather than him, I will not be at peace. If I choose to focus on the difficulties associated with raising my son, I will not enjoy the process of seeing him master new skills as he enjoys his childhood. If I choose to trust in the Lord, and not waver in my faith, I will begin to see the silver lining on each cloud.
A while back, my son developed a high fever in the middle of the night. Now, all he could say was “Mummy, ouch,” as he was not able to fully express what he was feeling. As we get ready to leave, we dressed him in a light sweater with a zip, but in the rush, we forgot to close the zip. After a few seconds, I heard ‘zzzzz’, only to see that he had closed the zip by himself! What an achievement! In this instance, if I had decided to focus on the fact that he could not tell me that his head was aching, etc, I would have failed to see the milestone – closing a zip!
Lesson number two: Be strong and courageous, because God is with me.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (NIV)
To be a parent of a differently abled child, you need to be strong – strong enough to handle the meltdowns, tears, behaviour changes, and nasty stares and comments from the outside world. What happens when that strength runs out? You run to the Lord.
I distinctly remember one instance where I really felt weak and drained. We had gone for an early morning doctor’s visit before school, as my son was feeling slightly unwell. My son happened to be in an excitable and impatient mood, much to the disapproval of an elderly patient. He got agitated to the point of shouting at me in anger, to which she said, “You bad boy, stop it!” We then went into the doctor’s office, only to come out and find her whispering to other patients and pointing at him. To be honest, at that point I did not feel strong enough to go and educate her and the others about my son’s condition. I let it go.
When I got home, I cried to the Lord, asking him was how I was going to be able to shield my son from the world, from people who were not interested in understanding him. His answer was, “Be strong and courageous because I will be with you wherever you go.”
How comforting these words are! Every time we have a bad day, or things do not go as expected, I remind myself that the Lord is right there, watching what is going on, and giving me the strength to handle the situation. I have also learnt that if I rely on his strength, I can handle anything!
Lesson Number Three: Celebrate my son’s unique abilities, not his differences.
Psalm 139: 14-16 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)
This world would be pretty boring and predictable if we were all the same, wouldn’t it? Well, if my son was just like every other kid, we would not have the opportunity to enjoy the interesting things that he does, things that are completely unique to him!
My son took a while to start speaking. One day he started to speak, and since then, I have noticed that once he learns to pronounce a word, he says it very clearly and correctly! Perhaps he has a future as a newscaster or voice over artist! With the Lord’s help, I have learnt not to focus on what he can do, but on what he can do! After all, there are things he can do that I will never be able to do!
God created every person for a unique purpose, even those who of us are differently abled! I have read about children with autism who become models, singers, pianists, professors, and vets! It is therefore up to me, the parent to ask the Lord to help me discover and nurture his talent as early as possible! I also need to keep reminding myself and those around me that being different is good. Think about it – Jesus was different from all those around him – yet he did the one thing that none of us would ever have been able to do – sacrifice his life for the sake of mankind.
Dear friends, God uses different ways to help us grow in the Christian faith. This year my spiritual classroom has a name – autism. I am however grateful for all that the Lord has taught me through this condition and through my son. I look forward to all the lovely surprises that the Lord has stored up for our family in our little boy because I trust in the Lord and I know that his perfect plan for him will be fulfilled.
Psalm 16:8 “I keep my eyes always on the LORD, With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (NIV)
Hi, everyone! I hope you enjoyed reading this week’s article. Do you know anyone who may be going through an experience with autism? Please share this article with them, as well as your family and friends! Have a blessed holiday season!