3. Narrative of A Mother

It's Not Working...

His toddler-sized screams echoed across the valley even as my hand flew to his mouth to shush the noisy protest. We had been invited to our friends' house for food and fellowship on a summer Sunday evening. They had set up a picnic out of doors and we were surrounded by lovely pastoral scenes on their small farm. Everyone was having a good time when, suddenly, we all burst out laughing. That burst was the cause of our son's cries. Fear? Distress? Anger? Why did he do this?

We had noticed it numerous times in the past few months - vehement screaming and crying when he heard sudden loud noises like laughing, congregational singing at church, power tools, etc...but thought little of it. New parents are highly aware of their children and the changes they bring, but most of our son's mannerisms were, to us, just another one of the usual childhood issues we needed to work through over the course of time. Training and teaching and disciplining were all part of our new parenting job. We thought we might simply be taking longer to catch on to how this is supposed to be done.

It crossed my mind that he was a bit extreme at times, unusually terrified by loud noises and apt to get upset over the strangest things, like the tiny light on a smoke alarm. As a Mom, I tried to be careful about jumping to conclusions, and hoped it would all go away with time. He would grow out of it, or we could train him to ignore the trigger points.

Some unusual behaviors our son displayed from a few months of age to a few years old include...

~ extreme reaction to loud noises
~ terrified fixation on smoke alarm lights
~ intense interest in roads and directions - 18 to 24 mos
~ exceptional navigation skills @ 2 yrs (calling out directions from his carseat)
~ delayed development in many areas...sitting, walking, talking, toilet training, etc...
~ averse to change, safe within routine
~ repetitive behavior, head-banging, lining up/stacking toys

Some of those issues can affect an average toddler, so why should I think my child is any different?

* * * * *

We have become a civilization who attaches labels to people, diagnosing almost the entire population with some sort of disorder. That, my friends, is my opinion and might be slightly exaggerated! But once again, I didn't want to get caught up in that particular school of thought so I resisted the idea that something might be wrong with our son. I was not going to make excuses for bad behavior on his part, or laziness on my part in training him. After all, we have varying degrees of intelligence and can't be stuffed into a tight, orderly, carbon copy file.

Is it right or wrong to put so many labels on so many people? I had to face that question. To this day, it is a bit of a mystery for me.

I want to have the proper perspective. It has been helpful and necessary to put a paper bag over my head (figuratively speaking) to shut out my physical senses and listen intently for the Voice of the Holy Spirit. One person says most of the disorders now being diagnosed in multitudes of humans are nonsense, another believes we should do every single thing in our power to diagnose and treat slightly unusual or atypical behaviors, while a third group hovers somewhere in between the two extremes. It's confusing, I can tell you from experience!

In our case, autism is the disorder or syndrome that came up as a possible explanation for our son's behavior. He was probably about two years old at the time but I had never heard of it in my life. Twenty years ago it was a relatively new term. My first instinct was to reject the "label" but I was also extremely grateful to know someone cared enough to try to help us solve our issues. In a way, it was even reassuring to realize someone considered it possible that our son may have difficulties other than slightly delayed development. Perhaps it wasn't just poor parenting.

By the time he was a year old, we definitely had our questions. Some of the problems we were working through seemed so unreasonable, irrational, just plain odd.

I don't know about other moms, but this was a huge one for me. A disorder? With my child? My firstborn, no less. Or was I a failure as a mother? Were our mistakes and blunders proving how terrible we really were at, not just parenting, but life in general? Am I prone to dramatization? Maybe. But remember, I wanted to get it right and thought I knew a thing or two about the subject before I even got involved in motherhood.

* * * * *

Do you see a pattern here? I had a lot of pride, self-righteousness, and opinionatedness that God was slowly but surely chopping away in order for His Spirit to have a home in my heart. I believe He uses adverse circumstances and insurmountable trials, in a firm but loving effort to capture our attention and send us crashing to our knees. For me, a tremendously successful tool He chose to use was this sphere of motherhood.

But our child was so incredibly cute and funny and sweet and lovable in between the tough spots. He looked just as "normal" as could be. Is it all just so much unnecessary worry and confusion, this idea of a disorder, of being on the autism spectrum?

For us, it was a tremendous relief to finally get some answers. We felt that by identifying the symptoms we were given a better understanding of our son, which led to meaningful training and the support that he desperately needed. Instead of blaming ourselves and getting frustrated with him, we were able to form realistic training goals and work toward them. We had much more compassion because we realized he did not process information in the same way we do. Rather than forcing him to conform to our standards (which was not working) we sought to figure out how he operates then taught him from that angle.

If it sounds complicated and challenging and time-consuming, that's because it is! But it's not too confusing for our Father. He has led us in some of the most amazing and unexpected ways, showing us He had a plan from the beginning and will continue to guide us if we are serious about doing it His way.

By the way, I requested permission from my now-twenty-year-old son to write about his life in connection with my narrative and he graciously consented. He has become such a comfort and joy to us. Through all our difficulties and fumbling efforts to figure out how to address some extremely tough issues, this child of ours has never gotten bitter. He simply will not hold grudges. His child-like simplicity and his love for people is an example I desire to follow.

...to be continued