God does all things well . . . even when we aren’t paying attention!
As you may know from my other posts, I have a son who has mild autism. He is eighteen years old now, and he just finished high school! Well, sort of. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s rewind about 18 years.
Cute baby, full head of hair (so full he had a haircut before he was two months old!), and hungry. Hungry because he has no idea how to suck. Takes him nearly an hour to latch onto anything: a bottle or myself.
Therefore, he’s not sleeping well because he’s hungry. Therefore, no one else is sleeping well. I call doctors and lactation consultants; no one really knows what’s going on.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t look very good on me.
Rewind a bit further, to a week before his birth, and you’d see my husband’s place of employment closing its doors a couple of weeks before Christmas. You’d see us taking Christmas presents back to the store to have money to live on. You’d see that everyone has already hired their Christmas help and so there’s no work for my man.
Yet, perfectly timed, because it took two full time at-home parents to function on very little sleep to care for this little guy who was just eating enough to make it for an hour or two 24/7. I was so thankful to have my husband home with me, money or not, to keep me sane.
Oh yes, we also had our first daughter, who was 17 months old, when the little man came into our lives.
I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the hard times we had when the kids were young. You could sum things up with the idea of two more girls becoming part of the family, and money being pretty doggone tight for more years than we would have voted for struggling along--if God had taken a vote.
When my son was 3 1/2 we decided something must be wrong. I tried not to compare him to his older sister, but eventually we knew there was more than a typical “boy delay” happening. We were consistent with discipline but felt that no child would have such a strong will that he would purposefully get himself into as much trouble as he did.
We knew he could hear because he would respond to noises and he was talking a little. But we wondered if he might have hearing problems, since he ignored most of what we told him to do. Or maybe he changed his name, preferring to keep us in the dark as to what name he would respond to. That was the best explanation we had, so we decided to send him to some experts.
We had his hearing and language assessed through a free program that the public schools offered. He was found to be fairly delayed in most areas. Their suggestion was to put him in special-education preschool.
Any help that someone was willing to offer was welcome. The elementary school he was to attend was one block from our house, yet he would get to ride a bus. Sweet. I wouldn’t have to pack up his sisters at the crack of dawn and unload everyone to walk him to class. Yet putting him on the bus the first few days was heartbreaking, even if he was only riding it for all of 45 seconds.
What was wrong with my little boy? Would the “experts” at the school be able to help?
His teacher was terrific. She’d been teaching special education for 15 years and was a Christian. She had a heart to help the kids and desired to see them succeed.
It was soon apparent that Garrett was the highest functioning child . . . with the biggest behavior problem by far. He was constant motion. He could not sit still. He could not keep his hands to himself. He could not be still enough for a nap (he’s had sleeping issues all of his life), and he rarely obeyed.
His teacher told me that she really wanted to praise him more, since he seemed to always be in trouble, but, “as the words are coming out of my mouth, when I see him doing something right, he inevitably begins to do something wrong before I’ve finished speaking.” This was as true of a statement as I had heard. Welcome to my world!
Long story somewhat short . . . we eventually had him tested and found out that he had something called Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Not Otherwise Specified. PDD-NOS for short. Autism for super-short.
By the time he was old enough for kindergarten, his school wanted to mainstream him into regular classes. This was an absurd idea to his teacher and myself, but other “experts” decided he was too “high functioning” to qualify for full-time special education. Said experts hadn't spent much time hanging around class and observing his behavior, I presumed.
My husband and I were already homeschooling his older sister and it seemed best to do the same with our son. His teacher was in full agreement. “He needs one-on-one,” she said. Yup.
So, what did one-on-one look like for this complex little boy? It looked like special diets, experimental herbs and supplements, and lots and lots of therapy.
Years of therapy.
It would take us from breakfast to dinner to get through all of the things he needed. It was supposed to take 3 uninterrupted hours, but with three other children in the house there was no such thing as “uninterrupted” slices of time.
I can remember describing my day to my husband as follows: Every morning I get up and crawl into a big long tunnel made out of brambles. I try to make it through with the least amount of scratches and injuries as possible. When I make it to the end of the tunnel, I get to go to bed! Waking up meant I started over, at the beginning of the tunnel.
'Everyday' things were a big ordeal. Riding in the car and going grocery shopping were a test of patience and tenacity. Going to bed at night was difficult because it was so hard for him to fall asleep. If he was still for 60 seconds he would conk out, but he wouldn’t stay in bed. We were thrilled to discover the doorknob covers that were hard for kids to grip and turn. He had poor finger strength so we were able to use the doorknob cover for quite a few years. With no possibility of escaping from his room, he would eventually give up his quest and fall asleep.
He had a penchant for playing with hair. Not just any hair. Freshly pulled hair. His older sister had a head full of springy curls that just beckoned to be plucked on a regular basis.
Scaring animals was sublime entertainment. Anything on a screen would mesmerize him to no end. Repetitive noises were one of his favorite ways to entertain himself. To this day I’m highly sensitive to whistling. Please refrain.
But God was at work. We prayed and cried and sought help. We often couldn’t see the forest for the trees, but God was faithful. He gave us patience and strength and friends that were willing to help. He showed us our selfishness and taught us love and sacrifice.
He convicted me of my pride when He showed me that one reason I wanted my son to behave was so that he wouldn’t embarrass me and make me look like a bad parent. Ouch.
The Lord taught me how to parent in His strength and not my own. How to respond to poor behavior for the thousandth time with sweetness in my voice, rather than scorn and contempt. He showed me my sinful heart and His righteousness, as he taught me how to love in His strength. That’s not to say that I’ve got it all down, but over the years I’ve struggled less and less. Sin still likes to rear its ugly head!
Fast forward to the summer before his ninth grade year. I mused to a friend that I felt “stuck” with my son. That it seemed I couldn’t get him any further (in any area) for the last few years.
“Maybe I should see if he could get some special services from the local high school,” I wondered aloud.
“Why not enroll him full-time?” My friend asked.
I had a million reasons why, or so I thought, but I prayed about what she said. I made some phone calls and talked to a counselor, and the next thing I knew, he was enrolled.
This proved just as providential as our decision to homeschool. Great teachers, new friends with similar challenges and interests, a variety of classes I couldn’t offer at home . . . it was a wonderful fit for everyone!
Four years of high school flew by and June 3rd--graduation day--I found myself prayerfully reminiscing about the mysterious ways of Time. Looking back at what issues my son struggled with that deeply affected him, as well as the rest of us, I had to be amazed at how far we all had come!
Though he still struggles with self-control in certain areas, our day-to-day lives are so different from when he was small. No more “brambles.” Smiles, laughter, and a general feeling of pleasantness are the characteristics that we enjoy on a daily basis.
Riding in a car, going shopping, being in a room full of people (even people with curly hair!) are no longer issues! He sits still and joins in discussions in youth group and school. He shakes hands and looks people in the eye when he meets them and says, “yes, sir/ma’am” when speaking to adults. He’s quick with a joke and will sit for hours and listen to me read (if I can last as long as he would like!). He has an ear for music, a great voice and is considered “invaluable” by his choir teacher.
Yes. This is my son.
And--wow!--what an awesome, faithful God we serve! He doesn’t always give us what we ask, but He does give us EXACTLY what we need. As I sat contemplating all of this I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.
There are a few particular areas that he still struggles with. Some of them big, big issues. At times it can be so discouraging when we see him overcome by sin. I realized, as I sat contemplating his life that day, that I’d almost given up hope that things could improve in these specific areas.
And I had to repent.
Change can happen so subtly when we are in the trenches that we’re blind to its occurrence. Hindsight is a great teacher and that day it renewed my hope--and my faith--for victory in these other areas as well.
In fact, on that last day of school, my son, the senior, brought home some projects he’d been working on through the school year. One was a terrific self-portrait, complete with a description he typed with his own unique spelling, that read:
“My name is _____, I love my friends and love food around the world Love pizza and pasta and the place I love to eat is at Cicis pizza and pull off pranks on people. The three things I want to work on is listen better o bay the last thing is stay out of trouble. I am a funny outgoing kind of person, I have an extended family some I haven’t seen before. I cannot wait win [when] on my big day win I go out in the world and win I graduate and I love my DS and I have brown hair and brown eyes.”
The whole project left me choked up; but to read that he was aware and desirous of working on the three things he listed was further evidence of God being at work in ways where I’d been losing faith. And by His great providence, He timed the unveiling of my son’s work with the unveiling of His work in our lives during my quiet time earlier in the day. The impact was so much greater, the blessing that much sweeter.
Watching him walk across that stage a few weeks ago was a milestone none of us will forget. We cheered and screamed and were so proud; he was searching for us in the crowd (he could hear us!) and beaming as he made his way across the platform.
There’s still a long road ahead. Although he was a “senior” this year, he actually gets to stay in the special-ed program for another three years. He will continue to work on life skills and vocational training. He will continue to have many ways in which he can practice, “listening, obeying, and staying out of trouble.” He has one of the best teachers prayer’s could ask for; someone who holds him to the same standards we do.
But he only gets to walk the stage this once. And as we watched him parade into the auditorium with his classmates, take his seat and listen respectfully, stand at the right time, and wait patiently in line to cross the stage . . . we weren’t aware, right then, of how each of those things were a culmination of year upon year, line upon line, precept upon precept, and many answered prayers.
However, slowing down and getting this chance to reflect helps me see how all of those stumbling blocks along the way were used by our heavenly Father as stepping stones on a gently ascending path. Americans crave (even expect) the gratification of instant success; but how satisfying the victory when it happens through sacrifice, hard work, leaning on one another, and being the recipients of graciously answered prayers.