“I see autism as having many different strands. All of these strands are beautiful. They are all the colours of the rainbow intertwined intricately into the child. If you try and take away the autism by removing the strands you also take away parts of the child as they are attached to them. they are what makes them who they are. However autism is only a part of them, not the whole. It does not define them.”
Ten years ago it was becoming more and more clear there was something different about my son James. Yes, he was born 13 weeks early and many of his delays were easily explained through his prematurity. However, his lack of language developement, need for structure and what seemed like disattachment from us was profoundly concerning. By the time James was 26 months old he was diagnosed with autism and our journey into discovering the beauty of autism began.
Yes, autism is difficult. Children that struggle with it often need extra help in schools, they can become emotionally and phyiscally dysregulated easily and see the world from a different point of view. Children who are more severely impacted by autism can be verbally delayed, communicatively impacted or completely unable to verbalize at all. I remember, years ago, when James didn’t speak I often said I just wanted to hear one word. One simple word. “mom.” In time, I was blessed to hear mom, and many, many other words but there are many other moms throughout the world who are aching, dreaming, praying for that one simple word today.
My son James, is my hearts joy. He is funny, sincere, wants friends and desires to be anyone’s helper. He is brave, full of perseverance and never stops trying. He is strong, loves the Lord in a precious tender way, and unlike autism stereotypes he is incredibly sensitive and loving. Still, James often sees the world from a different point of view than his peers do. This year, when James started middle school, he cried for hours everyday. I’m not talking about the typical boo hoos that most middle schoolers experience. I’m talking about a deep hearts cry, wailing, inconsolable weeping that started the moment he came in the front door and often ended hours later when he was finally exhausted and fell asleep. Change you see, is incredibly difficult for my precious boy.
James also struggles with reading the normal social cues you and I take for granted. During a school day he often misinterprets what kids are saying, and can often miss the unspoken cues of body language. This, as you can imagine makes walking the halls and completing school projects with his peers daunting. My James though, walks bravely through those halls and works hard on those projects even when peers call him weirdo and dummy almost daily.
Recently, autism has come front and center due to the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everytime I have watched the news recount the horrors I have wept. The precious faces of the children who lost their lives are imprinted on my heart and mind forever. Yet, I must admit each time I’ve heard a reporter talk about the killer having autism my heart has wept quietly inside. For reasons we surely don’t understand a 20 year old man did horrible, unspeakable things. His autism however, has nothing to do with that.
You see, I am not only the mother of the most precious and wonderful son in the world who just happens to have autism as well, I have also worked with a few dozen children with autism as a special education paraprofessional. Through these wonderful boys and girls I have learned a great deal about empathy, longsuffering and perseverance. I’ve learned to step outside of my life’s box to consider others. My son James has taught me to slow down, consider the more simple and believe the impossible is possible. The kids at school taught me to not sweat the small stuff and to find compromise on some bigger things as well. I have discovered that breaks are good, consistency important and love, no matter what, must be my foundation. Most of all, I discovered the wonderment and joy of difference. How I wish we would learn to embrace and learn from what is different instead of being like middle schoolers and calling it dumb or weird.
Right now, fear is surrounding autism because it has been attached to killer. This is wrong. This must be stopped.
Autism is hard but it is also beautiful. Men and women who live with autism are some of the best CEO’s, inventors, teachers and friends any of us could have. As one of my former students said, “Having autism only means my mind doesn’t work like yours. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me”. The ability to cut through the junk of life, right to the heart of the matter. Another beauty of autism the world needs to see.