Of Autism, Grace, and Jesus, Who Loves the Little Children–No Matter What

Nobody ever said parenting would be easy.

But if you add the demands of a special needs child on top of the usual issues of childhood, your life goes from manageably hard to something that must be like a slightly more malevolent take on Dante’s first circle of hell, the eternal mediocrity of Limbo reserved for the righteous pagans.  In this version, bureaucracy is constantly hampering and hindering any progress you may hope to make.  Like Prometheus, there is no respite from the daily ministrations of the liver-eating birds.  You have nothing to look forward to but more of the same, day after day.

The very people you trust to be the advocates for your child, the schools, may turn on you and actively try to thwart any attempt you make to give your child a fighting chance.  If you are different, their solution may be to hide you away in a remote facility and let you mark time until they can unceremoniously dump you from the system, secure in having supplied a “Free Appropriate Education” as guaranteed by federal law.

“Appropriate” is the operative word.  What some see as “appropriate” may seem wholly inappropriate to anyone who seeks to give a child that fighting chance to achieve something in life.

Of course, I write this as a seemingly embittered an embattled father who is discouraged on a regular basis by the roadblocks that people throw up in addition to dealing with the rigors of autism proper.  My son is reaching an age where children are increasingly unkind toward him.  The taunts appear to be increasing, not only from his age-peers, but also from the establishment.  I know adults who have made less than sensitive comments about mentally challenged cafeteria workers.  I have nearly chewed a hole in my cheek preventing an outburst that might be something like, “You may be talking about my son in a few years.”

But I continue to pray that he will turn a proverbial corner and make massive strides toward some semblance of normalcy.  But as I do this, I know the odds are against it.  Yet nothing is impossible.

———————–

I hate autism.

I hate it for what it does to people and families.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  There is no “blessing” in autism.  If I read another article where someone paints a rosy picture of life with autism, I think I’ll scream.  Seriously.

I hate it for what it does to my son.  His neurological wiring is working against him.  He can learn, he can achieve.  But not in the same way that “normally developing” children can and do.  He is different.  He is supposed to receive an individualized education.  In actuality, there appears very little that is individualized in terms of how he is being taught.  Many of the accommodations we have discussed are left by the wayside, although they are part of a legally binding document.  The educational assistant that works with him apparently has some kind of personality conflict with him: on numerous occasions he has come home and said “…she’s not my friend.”  If you can’t see the person who is supposed to help you as your friend, the relationship will not be fruitful.

When the person who is supposed to be in charge of the situation is ostensibly a brother or sister in Christ, the conflict becomes almost enough to make you doubt your faith.

I think about how unkind the world can be to a special needs child—or adult—and I just want to pull a Job and demand that God answer my question of “why?”

And then I think about Jesus.

One of my favorite scenes in the Gospels is where Jesus welcomes the little children in Matthew 19.

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

The disciples rebuked the crowd for letting children near Jesus.  But imagine Jesus rebuking them, and welcoming the children with out-stretched arms.  He must have been smiling as the children crowded around him.  All of them may have been perfectly healthy and happy kids.  But maybe there was a child with a physical deformity, or a child with a vision problem or hearing deficit.

And maybe there was a child with autism.

Like my son.

Jesus welcomed these children and blessed them.  Maybe he hugged them and tousled their hair and reminded them to mind their parents and always be good.

And that is what we are called to do.  To welcome every person with open arms and open hearts.  To see their strengths and strengthen them in their weaknesses.  To accept and to love despite physical or mental problems.

I am not enough like Jesus to do that.  At least not consistently.  But I know in my heart and in my very soul that he knows about these struggles and he cares.  He may not be here physically, but he challenges me on a daily basis to be his hands and voice in this world today.

In Luke 4, right after the account of the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went home to Nazareth and went to the synagogue.  The passage he selected from Isaiah was a declaration of prophetic fulfillment, the proclamation of the dawning of the great Jubilee, when captives would be freed, the blind given sight, and the oppressed relieved.

“16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Autism is oppression.  Plain and simple.  Not only is it a hardship in and of itself, it engenders meanness and cruelty in others.  Maybe they don’t see it as cruel, but it is.

Sometimes, when I feel that no-one cares about the whole situation, I think about Jesus and how he cared for the little children.  He cares for them still.  And those who may never grow up in their minds.  And those who care deeply for them.

Sometimes I wrap my arms around my son and stare into the face of the hazy uncertainty of the future and I feel lost.  I know I won’t always be here for him.  I’ve probably not done enough for him as it is.

But Jesus will always be there.

His grace is sufficient.  He told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.9-10,

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I know that rationally, intellectually.  It may take some time for my faith to catch up with my mind, but I will keep on it.

For the sake of my friend, Jesus.

And for the sake of my boy.

I owe it to them both.

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2 Responses to Of Autism, Grace, and Jesus, Who Loves the Little Children–No Matter What

  1. Doris Lee says:

    I am not sure of any words I could say that would be any kind of comfort or encouragement. I certainly cannot write as eloquently as you but her goes…

    I can only imagine being a parent of a special needs child. No, that isn’t right. I cannot imagine it. I think any difficult situation would be manageable if it were temporary, but one that is from now on until death do you part, well, I can’t comprehend. In all honesty though anytime I would see a parent with a special needs child, I would silently thank God that by His grace, it wasn’t me.

    I don’t know your situation well enough to have an opinion really and I hope I don’t say the wrong things. I absolutely do not know an answer when it comes to educating special needs children. But one thing I do know from being a parent and also from working in the public school system for 28 1/2 years, you have to be your own child’s advocate. No one knows your child like you do. A lot of policies regarding education seem to be developed in some office somewhere by some good people who don’t really have a clue. In other words, it looks good on paper. I guess in my humble opinion, if the “teacher’s assistant” or “gorilla” as they are called sometimes, is not personally in tune with your child or doesn’t seem to have your child’s best interest at heart, then it’s time for a heart-to-heart. (The squeaky wheel gets the grease!) I am not taking away from their responsibilities or job. I am sure that if they are worth their salt, they feel the same frustrations as you do, but where one person doesn’t “click”, a different person might hold the key.

    The other point I want to make is this. Rather than “chewing a hole in your cheek”, I think you owe it to yourself and your son to speak up and not let it slide. It could be that you might be instrumental in changing somebody’s way of thinking. You are a good, smart, Christian man and I firmly believe the right words will come.

    Lastly, I am so sorry that Autism happened to you and your family. Actually, I am sorry that it happens to any family. Like I say, I can’t imagine it.

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