THE BRIGHT THREAD OF AUTISM
As I sat on the small stool in the hospital assessment room, time seemed to stand still. Here were three women around my age, a Clinical Psychologist, an Occupational Therapist and a Speech Therapist, looking somewhat bemused, yet sympathetic, in front of me, quizzically seeking my reaction to the words which had just been spoken by the Diagnostic Clinician. “Sally, Andrew has Autism, High-Functioning Autism.” The words hit me like a train approaching me on the railway lines with nowhere for me to go or hide.
“AUTISM…Autism…Autism. That’s a scary, loaded word,” I thought.
“Jenny, what does that mean?” I posed, rather hesitantly. Jenny Gibbs, a very proficient and highly experienced Child Psychologist, slowly explained to me--“It’s a sensory condition where Andrew has been wired differently from other children. It means he has obsessional play, he doesn’t respond to emotions, and indeed cannot read emotions as we do.” “What a package,” I thought. And to think that this had been dealt to me in a matter of ten minutes, ten minutes which would turn my life around forever, unbeknown to me at the time.
I turned around to see my second son, Matthew, aged nine months, quietly sitting on the floor, playing with the blocks. Andrew, aged two, was on his belly, as usual, doing rather strange things with Thomas the Tank Engine--gazing intently at the wheels going backwards and forwards as he tugged on a single carriage. What an easy child, strangely, so easy to please that I could leave him alone for hours on end to entertain himself. Hardly speaking, he would grab me by my forefinger and drag me to touch something he liked, most often something that could spin in circles. A gentle boy by nature, he was the dream child at the young age of two. Would this now change, I wondered? Would I have to deal with a boy curled up in a corner, screaming and shouting unintelligibly for wants I could not even recognize? After all, this is the picture so many of us have of autistic children.
On my way home, the questions continued running around in my mind. At least I could go into ‘automatic’ and drive my car and think at the same time. What do other people do when they have a diagnosis for their child or baby? They told me at ante-natal classes that there is less than 1% chance that I would have a child with Special Needs. Guess what, I hit the Jackpot!
“How could you do this, God? I cried. What on earth is going on? I’m already tired. At the age of 36, I have two babies under the age of three--isn’t that enough for any person to cope with? What have I done? Did I cause Andrew to get Autism while in the womb?
Arriving home that day from the hospital, I was still in automation for several hours afterwards. I didn’t know how to cry. I got on the phone. I called my mother-in-law first. The tears rolled. We were both stunned by the news. Then, a few hours later, Robin came home. What happened next was a defining moment I shall never forget. As Robin held me in his arms, saying it’s going to be okay, I felt a supernatural power come into me that I have never felt before, nor have felt since. It was a physical encounter, quite unique and extraordinary. It was the Lord’s Holy Spirit empowering me to mother this child of mine who has Autism.
As a Christian for 25 years, there was one question that burned deep in my heart, “Does one bow down before such a diagnosis, or does one ‘conquer’, as we are so used to hearing from the pulpit? No doubt, this would be put to the test inside the “Unknown Package” of Autism.
The following days, weeks and months rolled by, and I decided to get to work. I said to myself, “Sally, get to know this condition inside out. You are going to be the expert in this condition, like no other person you know. You are going to beat this thing with all the strength God gives you. Yes, you will be tired; you will hate this condition for its narcissism and at times mind-bending obsessionalism. You will also recognize that this condition is “A bright thread in the rich tapestry of life”, to those who can see the Silver Lining in those dark filled skies.”
How true those words have been, almost like a prophetic prayer in the dark hole of my heart and mind. Yes, the above has been fulfilled, and so much more. Throughout the past 12 years that diagnosis has thrown me into a realm I would never, ever have considered as a normal Christian woman, living out a normal everyday life. That is the realm of mental health-- psychology, psychiatry, and latterly, counseling. It has thrown me into investigative work, trying to reconcile the spiritual with the psychological, mental health conditions and brain chemistry, sin versus physiology.
It has grown my heart in grace and compassion to the degree that I can now work with adolescents and adults as a Workplace Chaplain, identifying mental health concerns, real or imagined. I have grasped Autism to the extent I can speak on the subject. I have met, sympathized with and even mentored mothers with new diagnoses of Autism in their families. I can speak confidently with clinicians at all levels, counselors and therapists, and other professionals regarding not only mental health issues, but other issues of concern regarding human nature per se.
There has been a Silver Lining in my cloud. Did I ask God for a purpose? Yes, and I have received much more than I had bargained for. He has drawn out gifts in me I never knew I had. Yes, I still struggle with depression, which is the carnal sense of loss I still carry around in this earthly body of mine, and unbelievable tiredness at times. Not surprisingly, it has not been an easy road and I have since discovered my two other children are also in a mild way on the Autistic Spectrum, having ADD and Dyslexia. My journey is not yet finished, but God has been with me all the way, and still is, on this very complex and fulfilling journey that He has pre-ordained for me in His purposes.
What about Andrew? Where is he at this juncture? We have a quiet, yet lovely, 14 year old son, who has been on this unique journey with us. Our family personally knows all the countries and capitals of the world, their flags, and their populations, which countries are rich and which are poor, the names of the world’s rivers and mountains, and more recently, all the bridges of the world.
We have traveled with Andrew into his obsession with all the trains which have ever been invented, and their speeds. Andrew also knows most of the aircraft which have been invented, and also boats. He absolutely loves the outdoor life, enjoying walks along the Waikato River and adores the mountains of New Zealand. Andrew is a studious, conscientious boy--a peaceful boy, who doesn’t like contention. He has the Lord in His life and has been baptized. He is very faithful to His Lord and we can see that this will probably last through his whole lifetime. Andrew loves his High School, where he is in the Support Centre.
“Mum, I want to stay there till I’m 21, I like it so much, and then I want to live with you and Dad all my life”, he says to us.
What a joy this son has been to our lives! What wisdom and simplicity God has placed in our ‘bright thread’ in life.
Hamilton, New Zealand