I just don’t recall an autistic kid growing up.
We had this one kid in high school who, in recollection, must’ve been autistic based upon how he acted. He was just strange, peculiar in an autistic sort of way and of course the kids, me included to my eternal shame, were just awful to him.
I don’t remember another.
We had mentally retarded kids. Lots of them. Is that even appropriate terminology anymore? These kids had obvious mental and oftentimes physical limitations. They had their own class in school and even their own bus. Do they still have that?
But autism wasn’t a thing like it is now.
It’s personal for me.
It’s easy to speak in a sterile fashion concerning a particular affliction.
Autism rates have skyrocketed over the previous decades, doubling in the last 20 years. Today, roughly 1 in 100 children will be diagnosed with autism, depending on the source. The CDC has estimated as low as 1 in 68.
Scholars differ over the cause. Is it due to increased awareness and diagnoses or is there actually an increasing prevalence. Most assume both.
Anecdotally, I’ll affirm the latter as children today are afflicted from conception.
Though it’s not entirely established, there is a clear link between between autism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as well as prenatal drug exposure. If a child is lucky enough not to be murdered in the womb, many are subjected to a full scale chemical assault that changes the very nature of their future existence. I’ll abstain from the vaccination debate for now.
The foster system has afforded us a front row seat to the struggle. Prenatal chemical and alcohol abuse afflicts all of my sons, some more than others. The only thing more shocking than its effects is its prevalence.
So for me, it’s personal. My son has autism.
And I hate it.
Why I Hate It
He showed up on our doorstep at two months of age and we immediately suspected something was amiss. His hands and feet rotated in a continual, rhythmic fashion, never at rest. He had other behaviors I’d just characterize as odd.
He flapped. I don’t know how else to describe it.
He also piked when excited, stiff as a board.
Diagnosis after diagnosis followed as the wholesale prenatal assault of illegal drugs had left their indelible mark. Epilepsy. Developmental Delays. Tourette’s just to name a few. And of course, autism.
We learned. Autism is a spectrum, a processing issue manifesting itself in behavioral, relational, and sensory issues.
My son thinks differently. His brain works in a different way.
And he acts weird, often strange.
He has ticks.
At a pool party, my son’s popsicle fell to the ground and he lost it. I mean, he lost it. For those who have never dealt with an autistic meltdown, know that no amount of consoling, cajoling, comforting, even threatening can preclude the meltdown. In front of everyone, my son melted into rage at the fallen popsicle…and everyone stared at him, family, friends, other parents. And he knew they were staring at him, and he raged that much harder.
Never mind that another popsicle stood at the ready.
We finally found a sport he enjoyed, soccer. Well, he really didn’t care about the game, but he liked to run and he liked to talk, so he would frequently run alongside his teammates while playing, chatting up a storm, moderately oblivious to the game itself to the ire of his coaches and teammates.
Autism is not something a kid ‘grows out of’ either. The older my son becomes, the more obvious it is that he is not a normal little boy.
Every parent worries about their child, desires a better future for them. For my son, I wonder.
What will his future hold?
Will he hold a job?
Will he have a wife?
Will he be loved?
I feel an intense need to protect him from a cold and uncaring world.
Because he is different, because he often acts strange, others notice. Kids instantly realize he is different. Interestingly, most girls treat him with intense kindness. With young boys, some do and some, well, you know the deal. You don’t have to teach kids to be mean.
My son has autism. I hate it.
And I love it.
Why I Love It
My son is peculiar and wonderful in a peculiar way.
He is truly God’s gift to us.
I asked him the other day teasing, “Who do you love more, Moe or Titus?” speaking of our dogs. He just looked at me, puzzled. “What about Dexter or Gideon?” speaking of our other two dogs. Again, a puzzled look.
“I love them all the same,” was his most serious response. He simply could not fathom the concept of loving one more than the other. He loves them all.
I frequently walk into the bathroom to find two cats lounging around a stopped-up sink full of water, evidence of his care for them. He is the only one who routinely wakes as early as I do. Some mornings, I’ll sit and listen to him carry on a conversation with two of the cats in the next room. Maybe the most precious thing I’ve heard.
He plays with hilarity and exhilaration with friends who accept him as he is.
His ever rotating catalog of ticks, Tourette’s-related, always bring a smile to my face. One week he stretches his mouth as wide as he can. Other weeks he stops frequently to touch his toes. The one where he rolls his eyes in an exaggerated way while being spoken to is probably my favorite.
He is a comforter, an encourager.
One of our tutors at school had suffered an intense personal issue that grieved her soul. As she sat softly weeping in a dark room, my son walked by and saw her grief. Without hesitation, he went in and gave her a gentle hug, the sheer sweetness of the act a boon to her spirit.
God made him perfect, my son.
And it’s just like God to do such a thing.
God is not the author of sin. The relationship between God and evil is a mystery and anyone who professes to understand it completely is either a liar or deluded. Yet, of this I am certain. God works all things to the council of His good will. All things serve Him and accomplish good in His people.
Not that all things are good in and of themselves.
You see, God made my son exactly who He meant him to be.
And he has changed me, my son has. God has changed me through him. Autism is hard. Autism is painful. I hate autism. But, my son has autism, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. He is perfect just as he is.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
THE 413 REPORT
If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.