My son, Marvin, who is in high school now, is very proud of his autism. So proud that he gets very angry, very quickly if anyone suggests looking for a cure or calls it a disability. He insists that it’s a gift, and as for those who have more severe autism, others need to make more of an effort to see the gift.
I guess I feel like I’ve done too good a job helping him embrace his autism. A friend from my support group asked how I managed to do this, since her child is struggling with self-doubt. Thinking about it, I started intentionally trying to instill a positive self-image when he was four years old. Age four was when my husband and I realized there were other issues going on with Marvin and sought help. He was in pre-school and was desperate to play with the other kids, but his attempts to join them – which usually involved ruining the game – caused them to ostracize him. At home he was exhibiting some compulsive behaviors, and would have explosive meltdowns for no apparent reason. So we found a child therapist and started trying to sort everything out.
Marvin was old enough to realize that the other kids didn’t like him very much. He also felt very badly when he made mistakes or bad choices. Sometimes, when he’d done something wrong, he would cry and cry and cry. I really felt that my main job at that time was to reassure him. I would tell him that he was a good boy, had made a mistake, and was sorry. That I forgave him and God forgave him. He was a good boy because God made him a good boy. Now I know that some of you reading this are going to point out original sin or fallen nature and that we are all sinners. But step back for a moment. Who are we? Really? Genesis 1:27 says we are created in the image of God. How can that be anything other than good? And in the book of Mark, Jesus says to let the children come to Him, and that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. (Mark 10:13-16) I had a little boy who felt badly about himself, and I reminded him of his Creator who loves him. Isn’t that the essence of the gospel?
As Marvin grew up, and continued therapy, and got diagnosed, and was put on medication, and had trouble at school, and had therapy at school – we needed to give him some sort of explanation of himself. He knew he was different and was asking questions. We told him the truth. We told him that he had ADHD which meant that he had trouble controlling himself, that when a thought entered his head he tended to act without thinking, but that it also meant he had tons of energy and a generous spirit. And we told him that he had Asperger’s Syndrome (on the Autism Spectrum), which meant that his brain was created differently. That there were some things that were going to be challenging for him that were easy for other kids, but there would also be things that he was really good at that other kids would struggle with. And that the things that were hard for him, he still needed to do, but we would always give him extra help. We told both our kids that God made them the way they are on purpose. They are good, wonderful, talented boys. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13&14
The good news is that Marvin has fully embraced this. (I may have also told him he has superpowers….) The bad news is that I can’t seem to open his mind up to the idea that autism isn’t wonderful for everybody all the time. This whole thing reminds me of when I was a teenager and our youth group would have discussions about whether or not God made mistakes. Or whether or not it was ok to change things about ourselves – was wearing glasses doubting God’s power to heal? Or was dying my hair telling God that the hair He gave me wasn’t good enough?
And then I started thinking about cupcakes.
What if each one of us is a beautifully frosted and decorated cupcake? I imagine God giving all His attention and focus on the one cupcake in front of Him, sculpting and crafting a stunning, unique, and beautiful cupcake. And then He sends this cupcake into the world. I picture it going in one of those plastic cupcake containers like at the grocery store. God puts it in the minivan and sends it into a fallen world, where bad stuff can happen. Maybe the minivan hit a pothole, or got rear-ended on the way, but during transit some of the frosting got a little smooshed. Or some of the sprinkles fell off. It’s no longer exactly the way God intended it to be. It’s still beautiful. It’s still unique. It’s still been made on purpose. But it’s also appropriate for someone qualified (doctors, therapists, parents, the Holy Spirit, pastry chefs) to touch up the frosting or to put the sprinkles back on. Someone who can clearly see that the frosting flower belongs at the top of the cupcake instead of on the side, or that the three or four green sprinkles are not an accident, but just need to have the other green ones that fell off put back on.
What I’m trying to say is that I can believe that Marvin’s autism has given him some wonderful God-given gifts, and at the same time pray that significant help or even a cure can be discovered because there are also some awful things about autism. My son is able to talk, and can even be quite articulate, but I know there are many, many families who have autistic children who can’t speak. I know I get frustrated trying to communicate with my son who pays no attention to body language, facial expressions, or tones of voice unless I draw attention to it (‘what is my face telling you right now?’ comes out of my mouth a lot!). I can’t imagine the level of frustration and feelings of helplessness that parents of nonspeaking autistic children have. Maybe that frosting got a bit more smooshed. Is it wrong to hope and pray that someone figures out how to re-fluff that frosting? I am all for celebrating the unique gifts and talents that each of us have. And I also believe that every hardship is an opportunity to know God more. And I also believe that searching for ways to understand autism and to cure autism does not mean that I think my child is less. Marvin and Wesley are the most beautiful cupcakes I’ve ever seen!