Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

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Rocks, Monkey Socks, and Toy Cars—Joy Found on a Summer Morning!

“I love the simple things in life. They tend to get overlooked.” This anonymous quote captured the entire theme of a morning at my home last week. Waking up early, my children itched for an opportunity to play outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun before the humidity set in.  Almost immediately, they rushed to the edges of my backyard to collect and play with rocks.

My son and daughter definitely received their geological glee from me—for a period I seriously considered majoring in geology! Noticing the different colors, sizes, textures, and hardness of the stones captivate their attention. If left to their own devices my oldest children would remain outside for hours and bring inside cartons of rocks.

Along with my children’s joyful “jewel” collecting, their imagination was in full force as well. Albert Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I most certainly need to pay more attention to my kids’ imaginative play as my thirst for knowledge has been stymieing my joy lately. The creative juices flowed greatly in the mind of my daughter. “Look dad!” she exclaimed, “Look at this. Taken aback at what I saw I asked, “What are you doing?” Proudly she exclaimed, “I am a monkey! Look at my monkey-socks!” Covering her feet were a pair of garden gloves I bought for her at the local home improvement store. Immediately, a grin spread across my face. Next, I just laughed—not a forced chuckle, but a natural, healthy and joyful guffaw!

The final thing that brought joy to me that summer morn was my youngest son’s continual love and obsession over his toy cars. Being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in late 2017, we discovered that his obsession and impulsive playing with toy cars is part of what makes him unique. Carrying a plastic vehicle at all the time provides him relief amidst daily stresses of toddler life and living with rambunctious siblings. No less than a couple hundred times do we hear our two-year old say, “A car, a toy car! Look a car!” His enthusiasm and unbridled joy at the simplicity of a toy car reminds me of a spectacular point G.K. Chesterton made in his masterpiece Orthodoxy. He stated,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  

Repetition, work, and habits do not infringe on our ability to grow. On the contrary, finding joy in the simple matters of life and completing “monotonous” tasks regularly with joy instill true life in us. Days where I focus on my vocation as a husband and father with love are the days where my vocation does not turn into drudgery. The same is true when it comes to my daily work.

My dad displays this simplicity and adherence to his vocation as husband and father in an exceptional way. Rarely, did I hear him complain about his family duties. Weariness of parenting did not seen to wear on his face—at least from what I remember! In terms of spiritually living, my father is “younger” than myself in the sense that his obedience and joy in his vocation is anchored in the Pre-Existent God more deeply than my spiritual life is at currently!

I will leave you today with a few simple and profound quotes that I hope with awaken or sustain your spiritual life. I hope you discover the simple joy that children seem to naturally possess.

“What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures, I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.” —St. Bernard of Clairvaux

As St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.’ He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” —C.S. Lewis

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” —Greg Anderson, American author

432 Hz, Monkey Bars, and Visiting the Farm: The Miraculous April Weekend

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C.S. Lewis wrote in his work Miracles, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” This weekend I experienced the miraculous in the seemingly mundane. Before I go into detail, I need to provide a little background on my family’s situation. My youngest child who is two years old was recently diagnosed on with mild to severe autism spectrum disorder. Working with local educational and developmental professional he receives occupational, developmental, and speech therapies. Daily life is difficult for typical toddlers, but my son’s trials some days are compounded due to his cognitive delays.

The perfectionist in me seeks the attainable and perfection. However, I took up a new motto when it came to parenting and teaching my youngest son: Practice makes progress. Believe me practice does make progress. I am still fighting my perfectionist tendencies currently! Realistic goals provide a healthier home atmosphere than giving my children unattainable goals. Our two-year old had a breakthrough in his development—true progress displayed and his hard work in therapy paid off. Before we began developmental therapy, my son struggled to communicate his needs. As a result of his inability to properly convey his wants/needs he would bang his head on the ground when overcome with stress. Additionally, every single transition point over the course of the day involved intense meltdowns. While my son still struggles to transition smoothly from activity to activity, he is making progress.

Together with the diligent efforts my toddler and his teachers put into his therapies, my wife learned about the amazing power certain music/sounds that calm the mind. According to the German mathematician Gerhard Huisken, “music tuned to 432 Hz is softer and brighter, giving greater clarity and is easier on the ears. Many people experience more meditative and relaxing states of body and mind when listening to such music. The natural musical pitch of the universe gives a more harmonic and pleasant sound than 440 Hz” (cited from https://attunedvibrations.com/432hz/). I took my three children to the playground this past Saturday. Here I utilized the power of 432 Hz.

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Cabin fever took over my household over the long and drawn out winter of 2017-2018. Outside time was an activity that the doctor ordered! Along with ambling up the stairs and going down the slide by himself—and actually enjoying it—my toddler transitioned well from leaving the park back to the car. Normally, if I placed him in the stroller, wiggling, screaming, and flaying would ensue. What did I do differently this time? I downloaded a 432 Hz player app on my smartphone and played sounds with that frequency as I placed him in the stroller? Almost instantly, the power-struggle ceased. Is this a magic cure? Certainly not, however, the discovery of using 432 Hz frequency is a miracle as my wife and I found another strategy for our educational toolbox to help our child out with his development.

Along with a healthy dose of outdoor time and changing the frequency, we celebrated my godson’s First Communion. After Mass, we traveled to my aunt and uncle’s house for lunch. In the past, we discovered that new scenes oftentimes disrupted our son’s routine. Any sudden change within his daily habits nearly leads to intense meltdowns.  Prepped for an apocalyptic afternoon [at least on the car ride home] my wife and I were pleasantly surprised and quite proud that our toddler had a fun and major meltdown free Sunday. Gamboling in the vast outside spaces, frequently visiting my cousins’ parakeets, discovering hay-bales,  and playing Legos with his siblings and cousins provided plenty of chances for our son to exercise some independence in a new environment.

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My family truly experienced the miraculous in the final weekend of April. Aside from the Mass, as Catholics  weekly partake of the miracle of transubstantiation–mere elements of bread and wine  having the substance changed into the “body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ” while retaining the appearances of mere bread and wine, we experienced the miraculous in the form of hope in ordinary living.  C.S. Lewis stated, “If miracles were offered us as events that normally occurred, then the progress of science, whose business is to tell us what occurs, would render belief in them gradually harder and finally impossible” (Miracles, p. 75).

Science certainly has the ability to explain why 432 Hz is the preferred frequency, describe the development of farmland, and inform us how exercise on playground sets provide health benefits to children. However, the amazing part of our weekend was being surprised by the progress our two-year displayed. Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Which way do you prefer to live? Finding the miraculous in ordinary living is both a challenge and a joy!

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“and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority” –Luke 4:32

Happy Autism Awareness Day!

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This is the first year that I actually paid attention to Autism Awareness Day. With a second child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as a parent an awareness increased in my personal life that children with autism are unique. My oldest son excels in language and articulating complex sentences, yet he still struggles to formulate his needs at times. On the other hand, my younger son was diagnosed with a more severe form of autism. He qualified for more special services such as speech therapy, OT, and special education.

My hope is that I continue to grow as both a parent and citizen of the world in my knowledge and compassion towards individuals with autism spectrum disorder and the families who support them. Parents naturally strive to attain to find all the answers. When questions abound and various strategies need to evolve to best serve your child tensions sometimes rise. I often struggle with doubts and depression as a parent to children with special needs. My wife and I constantly worry about if the world will accept and love our sons. Autism Awareness Day is a start–a sign that hope is on the horizon! I am comforted through the intercession of St. Thorlak an individual commonly believed to be on the autism spectrum [see link below for more information]. During sessions of stress I mediate on this short prayer:

“Holy Thorlak,
Cut with the scythe of your workings
the thorns casting shadows
in my unclear mind!”

For more information on St. Thorlak please click this link: http://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

I thank the Lord for the blessings of my children. I am also appreciative that greater awareness is being brought to people with autism. Knowledge is truly a necessary step towards a truer and deeper level of compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. I will conclude today’s post by reflecting on a simple, but powerful anonymous quote, “As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life ‘fair,’ but we do have the power to make life joyful.” 

choose joy

 

Toy Cars, Smiles, and Autism: A Birthday Tribute to Our Family’s Healer

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Today my family celebrates my youngest son’s two-year old birthday. Since his breakthrough into this world, he provided my life with light, levity, and laughter. Being our rainbow baby—a child born after suffering a marriage—his name seemed to be apropos, Josiah. The name Josiah actually means “healer”. Truly, the Holy Spirit guided my wife and I toward this name. In a gridlock over boy names, suddenly the name Josiah entered my mind as an option. Upon telling my wife of this idea she fell instantly in love with the name. Only after settling on this matter did we discover his healing nature.

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According to Psalm 147:3, “[God] heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” The Divine Physician sends healing graces in a myriad of ways—the ordinary and prime method is through the gifts of the seven sacraments. Children are a natural fruit of the procreative sexual acts. God elevates these fruits in the sacrament of Matrimony to provide husband and wife opportunities to growth in holiness and strength to remain steadfast and calm in difficult family times.  Paragraph 1641 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states,

By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’

As previously stated, the ordinary means of growing in holiness is through participation of the sacramental life. Within the sacrament of Matrimony I have learned that laughter is a strong defense against the prowess of pride. No other person [aside from my wife] is able to consistently cause me to laugh or smile, and I mean genuinely grin until my mouth hurts or laugh until my side hurts, than my son Josiah! Recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder he poses an array of daily challenges, but his [apparent] disability gives him the unique ability to provide levity to stressful situations throughout the week.

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A major trait for people with autism spectrum disorder is that they normally become obsessed with a particular interest that encompasses nearly every facet of life. Toy cars emerged as my son’s particular obsession–several months ago– and he needs to carry at least one car in hand at all times. Toy cars provide comfort to him during stressful and changing situations. Allowing him to carry toy cars helps minimize meltdowns and tantrums. Seeing my son’s enthusiasm and joy whenever he wakes up in the morning and runs over to the toy-chest to dump over his box of cars and trucks gives me a smile. His routine is the same each day.

Consulting the King of Paradox

The joy of autism in my son reminds me of the words of G.K. Chesterton,

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we (Orthodoxy). 

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Monotony does not exist in our household. Autism spectrum disorder is challenging to deal with as a parent. I would be a liar if I said otherwise. However, going into marriage and thinking parenting, of any kind, would be easy is a fallacious  lie the Evil One sows into the minds individuals entering marriage. Admittedly, I am prone to the sin of laziness and I too fell, and recently fell, into the trap of believing that parenthood should be easy. The benefit of writing this tribute is that it has allowed me time to ponder the ups and the downs of fatherhood.

Mary’s Perfect Motherhood–a pathway to a more perfect fatherhood 

Recently, I renewed my dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary through praying the Rosary as I rocked Josiah to bed. Starting with a couple Hail Marys I worked my way up to a decade before he started chucking his toy cars onto the floor–this is a sign he usually is ready for me to lay him down in the crib. The simple petition to my spiritual Mother actually allowed me to grow in the virtue of patience–vitally important for my journey toward being a better father. St. Josemaria Escriva advocated of the Rosary by saying, “Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” 

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My experience can attest to the truth value of his statement. Bedtime is the perfect time for the Devil to swoop in and allow for sins of impatience and anger explode. Children often arise from bed, even now as I write, my daughter is getting out of her room to try to escape nap time [thus interrupting the flow of my writing!] “Dad! I dropped my golden boogers (jar of gold flakes that she somehow found from my childhood trip to Yellowstone) behind the dresser!” This was the reason my children were up. I cannot make up this stuff. Truly the fruits of marriage provide unique opportunities and challenges for parents to ferment in holiness.

 Thank you God for the gifts of my children–challenging as they may be to raise. I am grateful to celebrate my son Josiah’s birthday– the creator of laughter, smiles, and curator of toy cars in our household. May God bless you and I pray the Holy Spirit is able to open your hearts to the joy of laughter just as my son frequently does for my family!

Crossroads

“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads,” wrote G.K. Chesterton. I came across this quote earlier this week as I read Orthodoxy. Immediately, I picked up my mechanical pencil off the living room floor and underlined this concise, but brilliant message. As a former cross country runner, street intersections always remind me of the choice I had as a runner. Which path should I take? Do I take the easy and high trafficked path [normally I feel motivated by an audience of automobile drivers on the busier streets to help me continue to run] or do I take the road less traveled? Little did I realize how Chesterton’s statement would be actualized in my life. Less than a day after reading that passage, I arrived at a junction.

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Some brief background is needed as I believe God has prepared me for this moment for a while now. My youngest child was evaluated by early childhood developmental professionals and diagnosed with some learning and cognitive disabilities. Along with this challenge my wife started a new teaching job. Bills seem to continually pile up with little end in sight [at least immediate end]. Over the past few months I struggled with anxiety and my vocation in this world. I knew that I was meant to be a husband and father, but sometimes I felt like I needed to do more, to be something more, and to provide more light to this world.

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Counseling sessions and anxiety medication help me cope with the daily stresses of this ever-changing and chaotic world. Thankfully, my son was approved to receive weekly special education services to assist him in limiting his incredible tantrums and frustration levels [he was at a point where he started banging his head against the ground and hurt himself!] and increasing his ability to socialize and communicate. Small gains are being made, yet he has a long road ahead.

Together with counseling and medicine, listening to Christian music daily and reading literary Catholic giants like Chesterton and Tolkien provide me with relief when self-doubt and despair assault me. In the weeks preceding  my crossroads experience I had yesterday.  “All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.”

Talking with my manager during our weekly meeting, I looked for feedback on a new company position I was interested in. “Why did you apply for this position?” he asked. I replied, “The creative aspect and the possibility to increase my writing skills.” He continued to press on as to why exactly I enjoyed writing and advised that my career is what I choose to make of it. As a person who struggled [I guess still struggles] with OCD, I tend to like to view the world as black and white; either/or; through an if/then lens. I tried to get my manager to make the choice for me on my next path. “Where do you see yourself [career wise] in the next few years?” he asked.

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There are a few moments in life where you experience a profound clarity. Almost eerily clear. The best example I remember is when I started dating my [then future] wife in college. A mere month into dating I got a sense that I was meant to marry this girl. I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Matt you are going to marry her!” Yesterday’s conversation with my manager produced a similar lucidity of thought. “What do you want to do with your career Matt?” I responded [in my head] almost immediately, “A writer, I want to be a writer and spread the Catholic faith!!” Outside of my mind, I replied to my manager, “Well, you know I am not completely sure…” I continued to make general statements about how I enjoyed writing and about becoming a stay-at-home father to assist with my son with special needs.

Why do we shy away from God’s clear direction at a “crossroad moment” of our life? Personally, I struggle with the notion that such clear moments exist. Clarity in this chaotic world is bold. Truth is daring. As Chesterton put it, “Life [according to the faith] is very much like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with a promise (or menace)…But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will” (Orthodoxy p. 128).  Sometimes I wish there was a pre-determined path laid out for me. In some ways, lacking freedom is less stressful. But such mentality stems from the Evil One and leads to doubt in God’s providential plan for us. It seems crazy that I am so sure that I am called to be a Catholic writer. Looking back on my life, I had the exact same doubt when I dated my wife. I thought, “It is not possible to be so certain about marrying so short in the dating process!” Marrying my wife, my best helpmate toward Heaven, was [and is] in God’s plan.

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“All Christianity concentrates on the man at the crossroads.” I sincerely hope that I am able be an instrument of God help bring peace and clarity to people who suffer periods of doubt and confusion. Thank you for reading and continue to pray for me to follow God’s path!

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

On a beautiful Thursday spring afternoon, I was counting down the minutes until closing time at the Municipal Museum. Employed as a part-time custodian and studying as a full-time graduate student, I had a busy week. I was ready for my shift to end. I looked forward to having a sit-down dinner with my wife. Fifteen minutes before five o’clock, a mom with a young boy entered the facility. Sweeping the entryway at this time, I politely greeted them and advised that we would be closing shortly. The mom quickly acknowledged me and rushed after her galloping child as he pursued the exhibits in a seemingly haphazard manner. I immediately noticed this and nonchalantly started to follow the museum visitors as I dusted the display placards. “Why is he acting like this?” I thought.

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The boy appeared to lack listening skills and roved in a peculiar pattern. I immediately thought to myself, “Oh great, I always get THESE kind of customers right at closing time. Don’t they know we close at five. And why is that mom not paying attention to her hyperactive kid!” I forget the details of the end of that work day. But what I do remember is that before the family left for the day they visited the gift shop. “He has autism. My son has had a particular obsession with dinosaurs that past few months,” the mom casually remarked to the museum cashier and myself as the boy searched the gift shop for dinosaur paraphernalia.

This seemingly mundane work experience happened over five years ago. Why am I telling you about a random encounter I had with a child with autism? I have never seen this family ever again. Nevertheless, after my oldest son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum a lot of my past experiences with individuals sharing similar traits to my child revisit me in my dreams and thoughts throughout daily life. See, I thought I knew things about autism before I had children. I acted self-righteous toward that mother five years ago. Today, I want to share three ways my child with autism has humbled me and how our family’s path toward a diagnosis educated me on the uniqueness, trials, and joys of autism!

  1. Kaleidoscopic, not monochromatic:  The error of my previous way of thinking stemmed from a simplistic view of the world. I tended [and oftentimes still do today!] to reduce, or place people into categories. Individuals are either good or bad, respectful or disrespectful, educated or ignorant, right or wrong. I lumped individuals into general categories. Perhaps that was my way [and still is my way] to come to grips with difficult situations and reconcile seemingly contradictory events with the rules and laws of nature. What my precise motivation for having this black/white dichotomous worldview is for another topic. The point is I did not view each person as an individual.

In my journey with learning about my son’s diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, I entered a new realm of possibilities. My old way of seeing the world did not line up with the increasing awareness and knowledge on the study of autism as a spectrum.  According to the dictionary, the word spectrum is defined as “a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence.” Synonyms include: gamut, range, span, or rainbow.

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

During our journey toward a diagnose, my wife and I had our son evaluated because he exhibited OCD tendencies, social-communication issues, and various periods of obsessions . We learned that our son was on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum– he needed some interventions and therapy. Overall, he is still able to communicate pretty well. In other words, my son could hide his autism well, but my wife and I wanted to obtain a diagnosis to grant him services to best help him succeed in daily life. In telling his teachers and caregivers, our son’s great gifts and needs due to his autism diagnosis we get a nearly ubiquitous reply:  “Really? He doesn’t look like he has autism.” Autism spectrum disorder is an invisible diagnosis. Being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum my oldest son appears to be a regular kid. That is the beauty and challenging nature of autism– one shoe does not fit all kids!

Currently our youngest son is trending toward a path similar, yet different from our oldest. He shows the same characteristics as outlined above. A pattern of autism is already present in our family, however, our youngest son experiences different struggles compared to our oldest. Kids with autism spectrum disorder are unique. There are a broad range of issues and gifts, along with a wide array of services available to assist individuals.

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  1.  Ever-learning: According to the Autism Speak website, almost 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A few years ago, I heard a commercial on the radio advising that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with ASD. Why the big increase? Not being an expert myself, I have thought about this situation many times. My wife recently completed her graduate studies on special education and she took several classes relating to autism spectrum disorder. Talking about the rise of ASD, she mentioned that an increased awareness and broadening of the spectrum [recently Asperger’s Syndrome was added] is a factor of such increase.

It is important to realize, that since ASD is a spectrum professionals, in education, psychology, and counseling are constantly learning about autism. In fact, the logo for Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece. Puzzles, like a mystery, contain constant changes in knowledge and basic assumptions may be overturned upon the arrival of new evidence. It is important to realize that if you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with autism be prepared to be open to learning. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Actively seek knowledge about autism spectrum disorder and learn to develop empathy. I am certainly working on this and wish I learned this lesson five years ago.

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3.No One is a Full Expert: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” This adage summed up my mindset on the subject of autism. Acting in ignorance and pride, I limited individuals with autism spectrum disorder to a generality instead of unique cases. Truly, no one really in a FULL and complete expert in the field of ASD. I need to continually to be wary of judging my oldest son’s struggles and strengths against my youngest child’s limitations and  skills.

As a new parent, I got lots of parenting advice from “so-called” experts. My son did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. I felt like I was being told, “You do not know what you’re doing”. To be frank, a large majority of the time, I spent self-critiquing and self-doubting my ability to parent. Once we got a diagnosis for our son, a weight was lifted. We had an explanation. We had options. I may not have been an expert [nor still am today] but as least my family as direction to help our son.

Please learn from my mistake. Autism spectrum disorder is not uniform in its scope. Initially I failed to see the beautiful hues of humanity within ASD. Individuality exists for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, not conformity or homogeneity. I am by far and expert and I can only see from my humble hue in the case of my son. What I do know is that I am always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught I pray for the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit to be open to teaching with grace.

 

mindislikeaparachute

***The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.***