Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
“What a beautiful child!”
“She has her mother’s eyes.”
“He’s built just like his father.”
“Your child is autistic.”
When a parent hears the word autism in a sentence defining her child, she experiences a range of emotions in one rush: sadness, fear, anger, despair. In that initial diagnosis, joy or hope isn’t a typical feeling.
According to the National Autism Association, autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder, affecting 1 in 68 children. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. Currently there is no cure for autism.
We all know that, as Christians, we are called to accept those square pegs who don’t fit in round holes because we are all made in the image and likeness of Jesus. But let’s be honest: we live in a world where compliance to the norms of society is more comfortable. Acceptance of anything different is easy to say, but hard to do. Autistic children with all of their diversities can unsettle us. How do I know? Because I am the mother of a child on the spectrum of autism.
Every day, my wonderful little boy challenges me to put my faith in God into action. Through my son, God calls me to strengthen my steadfastness in Him. Nobel Peace Prize winner Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said: “Some people come in your life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.” From my point of view, autistic children are both. Because of my child, I have learned to praise God not only for the good days, but also on those days where I am worn mentally and physically and unsure of what tomorrow will bring. Because of my child, I value the tribulations that force me to raise my face to Heaven to ask God for help and the ability to withstand the unknowns, because I grow closer to Jesus in the process. Because of my child, I value everyday triumphs. Because of my child, I am encouraged to act on the Christian mentality of acceptance and love. Because of my child, joy and hope really are typical feelings I experience on a regular basis.
During this National Autism Awareness Month, may we all make it our mission to identify and celebrate the joy and blessings each child brings, not only in our own lives, but to the whole world. They teach us to see our world through a different point of view. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things!” (Psalm 119: 18)
St. Francis de Sales Parish Catholic Church
40 Granville St.
Newark, Ohio 43055