Let’s Observe Autism Awareness Day Differently This Year

Autism has changed me, as a mom and as a person.  Before I had children, I didn’t think much about the disorder, and when I did, I only visualized children who spent their lives rocking in corners, unable to speak.  I had no idea what it meant to those who had to live with it.

(Please read this beautiful post from another mother who has shared a small glimpse of life her with autistic son.)

Michael is high functioning.  He’s a beautiful child, bright and smart.  His visual discrimination abilities are fantastic, he can do puzzles more advanced for his age, and there isn’t anything he cannot disassemble.  He has a gentle spirit and loves his younger brothers and grandparents.  He has a generous heart and is eager to please.  I cannot wait to unleash these fantastic qualities on the world as he gets older.

Michael’s autism has locked him in away in a world away from us, and only recently have we made enough progress in treating his disorder to break through to him on a more regular basis.  Completely ignorant about mental disorders, being a new mom to Michael was a dizzying experience.  As a two-year-old, he was completely nonverbal and suffered from OCD and head banging.  He could not sit in my lap.  Hugs were for calming sensory needs, not affection.  He could not sleep and would often be awake for large portions of the night.  Anything out of the ordinary would cause him deep terror.  His allergies were a nightmare, and eating the wrong food could leave him screaming on the floor, sometimes for days at a time.

Through years of intense medical treatment, therapy, prayer, dietary changes, and the overwhelming grace of God, Michael has made vast improvements.  He can now speak, follow directions, and communicate with his family.  His sensory needs are calming, he is daytime potty trained, and we have periods of time when he can sleep through the night.  Our lives are improving and we’re starting to breathe a little easier.  And yet, autism is still something we have to live with every day.  It’s like we struggle so hard to reach what is only an unstable equilibrium, where the slightest little thing could tip us over into chaos all over again.  Michael is still thrown by things out of the ordinary.  He hyperventilates through getting dressed in the morning and typically has a meltdown by breakfast time.  We still deal with things like cycling and bolting and special diets.  Michael often wakes up screaming hysterically at night, unable to voice whatever is upsetting him.  He will often injure his brothers, not out of maliciousness, but simply because he cannot understand that his actions can harm others.  He cannot understand abstract concepts, and many times I often feel like he is in the same room and yet a universe away.

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So yes, I have been changed by autism.  It has brought out the worst in me on those sleepless nights and days of fecal smearing.  The stress and the pressure of months of intense exhaustion and emotion revealed the flaws in my character, and God has brought a lot of impatience, anger, and selfishness to the surface.  But through this crucible, I feel Him sanctifying me, giving me the fruit of His Spirit, and for that, I am forever grateful.  It has given me a whole new appreciation for what parents and teachers of special needs children go through.  I want to give you all a hug, cry with you, and just say “I know.  I get it.  You are not alone.”

So in honor of Autism Awareness Day, I challenge those of you to who may not live or work with a special needs person to show some love and support to someone who has been affected by it.  It’s the little things, bringing a meal, helping a parent with the grocery shopping (between moving cars in the parking lot and noisy hand dryers in the bathrooms, stores are hell), writing a note of encouragement, or praying with someone.  Let us know that we’re doing a good job, that we’re not terrible parents, and that we’re not ostracized from the rest of society.  I have been incredibly blessed by a circle of friends and family around me who have done these very things, and Michael, I, and our family would not have made it this far without them.

Let’s be a little daring and observe Autism Awareness Day a little differently this year, and let’s try to show God’s love to someone who really needs it.

Love to you all!

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