The Sanctity of Autism {Autism Acceptance Month}

I haven’t written directly about my son before, out of respect for his privacy. This Autism Acceptance Month,  I want to share something that has weighed heavily on my heart. For the sake of readability, I’ll be calling my 3 year old “Johnny”.

 

 

When my son was first diagnosed with autism last year, every step of the process focused on his weaknesses. Not only his raw nerves that make the world too loud and too bright. But every sparkling facet of his deep personality was pathologized.

No less poisonous was the advice given to me. That you will love your child in spite of his in-born traits. That your every moment will be spent battling his brain. Your child is a burden to be overcome, not a person to delight in.

 

Thankfully I have two experienced friends in my mothering group. Their sons are elementary school aged. I asked them:

“The report says everything that makes him unique is part of a disease. Am I not allowed to be happy or praise him for X, Y, and Z behavior?”

 

“No, no, no,” they assured me. “He is the same child today as yesterday. Love him the same.”

 

I have taken those as my marching orders. Wouldn’t you know, it’s opened a new treasure before me. Far from ignoring and squashing those non-harmful behaviors, I’ve observed them more closely. And out of my observations and participation in his world, I’ve grown spiritually.

 

Love is the mission of motherhood. This doesn’t end with an autism diagnosis. No child, no human person is meant to be overcome. Autism Acceptance

Liturgy

Children with autism, we are told, are slaves to their own routines. Locked into their iron-clad rigidity. If a behavior or heaven forfend a series of steps is repeated, it needs to be interrupted.

 

Just because it’s repetitious, doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful. On the contrary. We repeat these steps over and over again, because they are important. Together they form a liturgy of love. Equally beneficial the first time as they are the hundredth time.

 

Sometimes I do get tired and ask for a break. But sharing in his liturgies allows me to see the beauty of patterns. They form well-worn paths of love through our days. They lend a structure to our time, and a unity of purpose to our interactions.

 

Love is the mission of motherhood. This doesn’t end with an autism diagnosis. No child, no human person is meant to be overcome. Autism Acceptance

Contemplation

Before motherhood, I had no concept of contemplative prayer. I’ve always been too busy and on-the-go. Even a workshop on Lectio Divina couldn’t help me be still and meditate. My mind was ever onward to the next task on the list. Johnny threw all to-do lists out the window.

 

He moves at two speeds. We’re either running in constant motion, or we’re sitting motionless long enough for the ducklings to forget their fear and flop around at his feet.

 

Slowing my life to his speed has developed my own ability for quiet, which is the beginning of contemplation. As I bask in his talent for purposed stillness, I calm my own restless nature. He’s given me the gift of patience, of peace, and of prayer.

 

Love is the mission of motherhood. This doesn’t end with an autism diagnosis. No child, no human person is meant to be overcome. Autism Acceptance

Self-donative love

 

Love is an action, not a feeling. Pope St. John Paul II spoke countless times of a special kind of love. A love that doesn’t give chocolates and flowers. A love that allows us to share Christ’s love. A love of self-giving.


I watch Johnny practice self-giving for the sake of love every single day. Sometimes it’s in overcoming his instinctive reactions. When he wants to hit the child for looking at him, but turns the slap into a wave of welcome.

 

Sometimes he gives of himself in love by doing the impossible. He supposedly doesn’t have the theory of mind to engage in humor. Yet he daily makes little jokes and surprises for the joy of others.

 

The very meaning of the word “autism” is a morbid self-absorption.  Johnny is as passionate and headstrong as any other preschooler. But self-absorbed? Hardly.

 

He loves me with the singular, humbling, wild love a boy has for his mother. This irresistible, inescapable love fills me and changes me. It is only a shadow, a foretaste of the awesome love of God. But it’s the best love we can give to each other this side of heaven.

 

Love is the mission of motherhood. This doesn’t end with a diagnosis. No child, no human person is meant to be overcome. He was not sent as a cross to bear. God knit him together this way in the womb. Johnny’s inmost being is wired differently from others’, and he’s oh-so-wonderfully made because of it. All God’s works are wonderful!

Love is the mission of motherhood. This doesn’t end with an autism diagnosis. No child, no human person is meant to be overcome. Autism Acceptance

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10 comments

  1. I am crying tears of love right now. That is beautifully expressed and shows why God chose to send the gorgeous little angel named Johnny to you and your husband.

  2. Lorelei, such beautiful words of love! As hard as some days will seem, your love will overcome all. I truly understand. Love, Aunt Sarah

  3. Lorelei, your words are a beautiful testament to motherhood. I, myself, mothered a 2 year old with autism 41 years ago when all the nations experts could only say he was “autistic like”….(there was no ‘spectrum’ then). I’ve been in your shoes, delighting in many of the little nuances that were called issues and problems, often realizing that the repetitiveness of his life was his way of learning how the world worked. It took him a bit longer, but at 43, he is a Hollywood handsome, healthy 6’2” obsessive marathon runner, married months shy of 20 years, a firefighter & paramedic, father of two straight A students in high school and college, a savant-like gifted artist who would move mountains to help anyone. For many years I did what the experts advised, but around the time that he was entering puberty and naturally pulling away as boys do, I began to let go and let him find his own way. He has navigated life so well and is one of the most successful human beings I’ve ever known. He still struggles with some of life’s common puzzles, but he’s learned how HE learns, and he manages quite well. (A 3rd grade teacher told me once, “I don’t know how he learns, but he knows how to learn for himself”).

    I’m sure, beyond doubt, that with your sensitivities and open mind, your obvious love, your willingness to learn and wonder, and wait..,,your little Johnny will do just fine. I just know it. Look at that gorgeous face. Only God can make a face like that. Perfect and pure.

    With love and admiration,
    Janelle

    1. Thank you, Mrs. Avery! Your compliments and advice mean so much to me. I’m blessed to live in the information age, where with the push of a button we can connect with mothers to similar kids.

      I can’t imagine having to figure it all out before Google 😳 I’m supported by the collective wisdom of good mothers who have already done the hard work. Mothers like yourself.

  4. Your intelligence will always overcome any difficulties that will arise. I strongly believe Autism is NOT a disease but rather a condition that requires patience and understanding, which you clearly have come to understand. It has been my experience that Autism is not a hindrance but an adventure. An adventure to be shared, with not only your child but with the people that want to be a part of the child’s life. As Johnny gets older, you will notice that he will discover something that interests him and he will learn everything he can about that interest and he will actually become extremely knowledgeable in that subject. He will also want to tell you everything he knows, which can become tedious at times but knowing he has found something that keeps his attention makes it all worth it. Keep up the good work Lorelei, you will always be rewarded by your son’s Autism.

    1. It really is a great adventure! Parenting always is, but I got a double helping 😀

      Thank you for the advice too. My dad always patiently endured my 4 hour “summaries” of whatever book series I was reading. I know Johnny’s going to pay that back to me in spades 😳

  5. This is so beautiful. Undoubtedly, God created Johnny with a beautiful gift that he has already shared with you. What a beautiful post and reflection <3

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