3 Things about the Holy Trinity I Learned from Elementary Students

Holy Trinity Icon

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The soul is healed by being with children.” This Sunday, I experienced the truth contained in that quote. It was the first class for Religious Education at my parish.  Going into my third year of volunteering as a catechist, I was comfortable with the subject matter, but I was a bit nervous about teaching third and fourth graders for the first time ever. Previously, I taught high school and middle school students. 

The starting lesson was on the Holy Trinity. While that teaching is the most essential belief of Christianity it is also the most misunderstood and easy to fall into heresy. How could I explain this doctrine to younger students without getting too theological or technical?

In hindsight, I always am reminded that it was actually pointless to worry. Everything turned out fine. St. Paul wrote, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6-7).  I have since bookmarked this passage. Although I failed to petition God for aid before the lesson I am expressing my gratitude in Him using my students as instruments to remind me of wondrous truths contained in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

God Welcomes Us

Entering the prayer room the students and I sat before the icon of the Holy Trinity (above). This famous religious artwork was painted by Russian artist Andrei Rublev in the 15th century.  Another catechist acted as a prayer facilitator. She asked us to gaze at the iconic (no pun intended) image and asked about things that stood out.

One of the students raised her hand stated, “It looks like there is an empty seat at the table.” When asked who is the seat for the fourth grader replied, “Us! God is welcoming us to the table.”

Her simple statement goes to the heart of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 237, The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God”. Only by inviting us into the life of God will be able to know God.

You Don’t Have to be Old to be Wise

Another thing the children taught me is that wisdom does not come from old age, but rather it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Lucy described it best, “Those whose hearts are pure are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Children’s hearts and intentions are free from prior motivation. The excitement and wonder of a child is something to be celebrated not stymied or stamped out. I have been struggling a lot with seeing the purity in my own children. Instead, I selfishly mistake the energy as causes for messes, extra noise, and an inconvenience at bedtime!

Watching the elementary students talk about the icon of the Holy Trinity with wonder and curiosity made me realize my pride and impatience at my own children. Our three year old with autism spectrum disorder had a week of regressions. Mass was basically a zoo with uncaged animals. He had several meltdowns and slipped the holy water at the entrance.

I should have been angry. Frustrated. Defeated. But somehow I did not let that accident before me. Later during the Mass our son finally calmed down. Walking over to the holy water fount after communion he dipped his hand in the water (thankfully he did not spill it again!!). “Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen!” he said with a grin on his face.

The Holy Trinity is the most central mystery of Christianity. How could I be mad at my kid when he expressed that important doctrine with such joy. Wisdom is given by the Holy Spirit. More often than not those less “educated” or “less worthy” will teach the prideful. It definitely happened to me with my students and son.

Equality Matters

A third aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity my students taught (or reminded) me was a different way to look at the Holy Trinity icon. One of the other things the students noticed about the painting is that all three persons of the Trinity had a halo. The catechist asked, “Why do you think they all have halos?” Quickly, one student quipped, “Because it would not be fair. They would not be equal if only one or two had a halo.” Another simple and profound observation. But it cuts to an important part of the teaching of the Holy Trinity— equality matters.

Sign of the Cross Meme

Christians profess belief in One God in Three Divine Persons not three separate gods. The Catechism teaches, “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire” (CCC 253).

This image below is a common diagram used to explain (as best as humanly possible)

Holy Trinity Diagram

 

All analogies will fall short. This mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed by God through Sacred Scripture and confirmed at the Council of Nicaea through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to spend time in prayer before the icon of the Holy Trinity.

Reflect on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity this Week

Ask your local parish if you go get access to view a copy of this image. If possible you could purchase this icon as part (or the start) of your home prayer chapel or icon wall. Or simply print off the image from the Internet if you are pinched or time and cannot get access to an actual painting of the icon. Bring your Bible and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration pondering this wondrous Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, understanding, patience, joy, gratitude, humility, and amazement. I am grateful for the gift of my students and my children who reminded me of the greatest gift—  the Holy Trinity!

Related Resources/Links

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p2.htm

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/12-things-to-know-and-share-about-the-holy-trinity

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/06/10/toddlers-an-adorable-trace-of-the-trinity/

https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/05/02/3-reasons-why-st-athanasius-is-my-favorite-saint/

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5 Ways to Overcome Bias

According to Cardinal John Henry Newman, “It is very difficult to give resentment towards persons whom one has never seen.” I have seen and experienced this phenomenon before. In those moments you are driving and someone suddenly cuts you off. An immediate reaction is anger or annoyance. Another instance of frequent prejudgment occurs when we first meet a new person. Sometimes our instincts are correct. Sometimes our initial bias is wrong.

Let us try a short experiment. Listen to the following quote. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg states, “I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at”.  What thoughts popped into your head when you heard her name? Perhaps this name meant nothing and that is certainly fine. Actually, that is good because that means no bias exists now. If you know of Ruth Bader Ginsberg then it is likely depending on your past experiences, worldview, and or morality whether you view her positively or negatively.

Whether you agree with her judicial decisions or not, I hope we can all agree that her statement is true. Unconscious bias is tough to overcome. While bias acts as a predictive element for various situations in our life, we all have suffered saying something dumb or making an assumption that makes us look foolish. Even today I had to battle  my preconceived notions and even slipped up in assuming something at work that later proved me wrong. I don’t want you to fall into the same foibles as me so here are five ways to overcome bias and make your relationships smoother.

Be Humble

According to Thomas Merton, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” Pride clouds our perception. It limits our purview. The days where I struggle most with prejudgment are the days that I struggle the most with the sin of pride. Listening to the news, regardless of your political affiliation (IT HAPPENS ON BOTH SIDES) the bias is so obvious it almost jumps off the television.

Humility

Humility widens our ability to emphasize with others. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When that happens, our past prejudices are forced to change. Our skewed perception meets reality. St. Vincent de Paul plainly wrote, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or truth. If you want to begin to overcome bias—start with being humble!

Never Assume, Ever!

I assume you know that old adage about assuming—right?!  The one that says: “You know what happens when you assume?” Or should I clarify? In case you never heard that saying refer to the meme below

don't assume

Too far? Perhaps. Basically, we should never, ever assume because you could make an a** out of you and me! In all seriousness, assuming occurs when we use past patterns or behaviors of events or people to predict something that will likely happen now/in the future. While assuming does lead to being right sometimes, I have learned that the benefits of being right don’t outweigh that awful feeling learning you are actually wrong (JUST THAT 1 TIME). Assuming more often than not perpetuates and deepens prior bias. Be safe. Never assume!

Education, Reeducation, Continuing Education

“Prejudice is the child of ignorance,” purported English essayist William Hazlitt. Learning more about the item or person that you are prejudiced towards will naturally lead to a broadening of your understanding—so long as you approach education with an open heart and mind.

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As a parent of special needs children, I hold a special place for children (and adults) with disabilities. While our society is definitely making gains in mental health and disability awareness, many prejudices still persist—especially regarding autism spectrum.  Some of the remarks people have made when hearing my sons have autism include: “You know vaccines cause autism!” or “Are you looking into a getting your son cured? These comments are biased and uneducated.

Initially, I let this bother me. Ironically, penchant for special needs children is a bias as well. I need to separate my personal view on the matter sometimes and realize that some people  may not be aware of autism. Without that awareness and education it definitely makes why others may have a prejudiced view on an important issue dear to you.  As George Whitman put it, “All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”

Put Priority on Individuals and not the Collective

Along with seeking humility, avoiding presumption, and continuing education, another way to overcome bias is to view people as persons. I see this all the time at work—many times I fell (and still fall) into this habit. My toughest interactions with clients, customers, acquaintances, and even my children happens when generalize the group instead of understanding the individual’s needs. Failure to place priority on the individual leads to generalizing.

Generalizing is not necessarily bad in and of itself. Reducing individuals to the collective gets problematic when it is done hastily and without thinking. Treat the person before you (whether that be your spouse, customer, neighbor, etc) with the utmost dignity. That simple attitude will go a long way in broadening your viewpoint and limiting bias.

Talk it out

The fifth and final way to overcome bias is arguably both the simplest and most overlooked—talking. Twentieth century psychology Rollo May wrote, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” When all other methods fail just talk. Communicate. Learn from others. You don’t have to adopt others’ belief if it is contrary to your own, but to overcome bias talking helps you better understanding their viewpoint.

communication meme

Prejudice exists because we live in a fallen world. We are blessed to be living in the unique age of social media. No other time in human history has information traveled as quickly nor connected as many people as now. This is both a good and bad thing. There are more opportunities for learning about others, but also there are a ubiquity of opportunities for prejudices to persist and worsen. Prejudice can be overcome. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of humility, avoid presumptions, be open to learning daily, treat everyone with dignity, and be willing to communicate. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day my children will not be judged by their disability or other outward appearance, but by the content of their character! Do you believe as well?

 

 

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3 Reasons Why Children are Good Teachers

schoolhouse

George Washington Carver once stated, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” Over the course of the centuries education has changed, developed, and evolved. As a society we are becoming more aware of the benefits of education, both at an early age and at later stages in life. Continual learning past the traditional high school, college, and even post-graduate levels is essential for living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Learning is Life!

As a husband of a special education teacher and a former educator myself, I am attune to the importance learning holds for a person both professionally and personally. Having earned a Master’s in Theology, I once thought myself to be an expert, or master, in that particular field–the study of God. My vocation as a father proved this arrogant premise to be contrary to what I once believed. Children–my three incredible adorable and sometimes obstinate offspring–are in fact good teachers in the school of life.

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“Knock, knock who is there?”

Eight o’clock at night arrived in my household. Both my wife and I were scrambling to get our older children to bed. My son and daughter finished their evening snack of a cheese-stick, clothed in their pajamas, and teeth brushed. We prayed the Guardian Angel prayer before shipping them off to the bedroom. I thought we were in the clear when I heard my daughter asking, “Daddy, can I get a book? I don’t have one in my bed!” Begrudgingly, I harped, “Yes, go quickly into the living room and pick one off the shelf.”

Oddly enough–or maybe not so oddly– my daughter grabbed a joke book filled with riddles, knock-knock jokes, and other corny puns. As I tucked the blanket around her, my daughter insisted I read a few jokes. I conceded and read a couple knock-knock jokes. Her eyes lit up and dimples appeared in the corners of her smile. Reflecting upon this seemingly mundane experience now, I realized that laughter is okay–even during bedtime routine. My children taught me that lessening my serious demeanor will not kill me. Instead, laughter enlivens my spirit. New life is breathed into me as I gaze at the humorous antics within my home.

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Keep Your Promises

Our oldest son is a “rules kid”. What do I mean by this? He is quite bright, detail-oriented, and observant. I am convinced he possesses a photographic memory. My children taught me that the stakes for making–and breaking–promises exponentially increase when you become a parent.

During the hustle and bustle of daily living, I sometimes say things to assuage my son’s persistent pleading. I am not proud of it. As a member of the human race, I suffer from original sin as much as anyone. My promises do not always get fulfilled. Oftentimes, I fall short of the expectations my son and daughter have for me. What parenthood has taught me is that I need to be honest when I break a vow. I need to continually strive to be better at keeping my promises. Most importantly I have learned that children are fairly quick to forgive– I have learned forgiveness is key to becoming a better father.

little things calvin hobbes

Joy in the Little Things in Life

 Our youngest son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Daily life is frequently tough as he struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively. Meltdowns and tantrums occur regularly. Despite his struggles and limitations, my son teaches me everyday to look for the simple joys in life. For instance, he finds an inordinate amount of joy in anything containing or resembling the shape of a circle. If we go grocery shopping, his eyes light up whenever we pass a helium-filled balloon or whenever he gazes up at the round light bulbs in the store ceiling. Similarly, at house he plays with the same toy cars and trucks without getting bored. Although he has a social-communication disability, in some ways my son has a special ability– to see joy in the seemingly mundane.

Fatherhood reminds me of the words of Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Personal growth and learning take time and oftentimes are painful. By focusing on mere snapshots of my parenthood journey I fail to see the fruit that family life fosters. I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons of humility, humor, and joy that my children taught me. I pray that I continue to strive towards being an open and honest student!



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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!

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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.

autism colors my world

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.

 

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***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.***

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