How Can I Handle Autism in my Family?

By Cynthia A.

When our oldest child was diagnosed with autism it created a whole new set of questions for us. Would he ever learn to talk? Would he be able to graduate from high school or go to college? Would he be capable of holding down a job or living independently? It was an incredibly challenging time for us and even after seven years of trying to adjust, it still continues to be challenging. Throughout that time, however, nothing has brought me more comfort or steadiness than my perspective on the purpose of life.

If life’s meaning were measured only by financial success, fame, or prestige, my son’s life would seem virtually meaningless. For example, his favorite activity is to spin objects. He’s very good at it, but it probably won’t translate into a lucrative career. He may spend his entire life needing to be cared for by others. All of these things concern me, but there is one thing I know: His life is not a waste.

Our existence didn’t start at birth, nor does it end with death. Our life on earth is part of a broader, grander story, a step towards the destiny that God has offered us. He gave us the chance to have earthly bodies because our spirits, even dwelling with him, could only progress so far without mortal experience. Although we can’t remember it, we rose up and rejoiced when God told us we could live on earth and learn and grow through the experience. Housed within my son’s body, despite all its limitations, is a spirit with as much potential intelligence and power as anyone else’s. And even though his communication skills are limited, I can see that my son is someone who glories in the wonders of this world and who is overjoyed to have a body.

He teaches me, in his way, to appreciate the things I too often take for granted – the fascinating textures of clothing and skin, the beauty of patterns and rituals, the joy of jumping as high as you can and landing with a giant thump. However, this isn’t necessarily my natural reaction to my son’s behaviors and perspectives. Frequently, I feel impatient and frustrated and confused. But when I allow it, he offers me profound lessons.

One day our bodies will be restored to us in perfected form; all the ailments and impairments of mortal life will be left behind. I don’t know exactly what this means for my son. I don’t know which characteristics are a part of his individual personality, and which ones stems from his autism. I don’t know if I’ll be able to recognize him when he is perfected. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that God has promised us that if we follow him, we will at last be given a fullness of joy. Joy transcends all of the mundane accomplishments that my son may never achieve. Joy is the aim of his existence. And none of his limitations can hold him back from that.

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