Monday, January 29, 2007

Autism

Many of you know that our son, Will, was recently diagnosed with autism. We have found that many people are afraid to broach this subject with us and/or don't understand what autism is and how it affects Will and our family. So I thought I might explain it and then tell you a few things I am learning through this process.

Autism is on a wide spectrum, from very mild to severe, so it affects everyone differently, but there are three main areas:
  1. Social interaction: people with autism cannot read or understand social cues the way most of us do. They have trouble starting or maintaining conversation with others and often don't know how to respond when people approach them or engage them.
  2. Language development: some people with autism don't speak at all, but all people with autism have language delays or difficulty developing language at all. This was the first sign for us with Will!
  3. Repetitive behaviors or fixations
October 17th, 2006 has become a day kind of like September 11th was for our nation. We think of everything as before the diagnosis and after the diagnosis. Sometimes we think of October 17th as a bad day, a day that brought something we don't understand and don't want for our son. But on most days, I can look at that day as a relief (finally we have an answer to that knawing feeling that something is wrong) and a day that delievered us a huge challenge that is faceable. Since that day, I have learned alot. Here are a few things:
  1. The Lord is sovereign. He chose or allowed this for Will and not just for Will, but for everyone in our family. He is perfectly content with who Will is and who he will be because He created him. As Will's favorite memory verse says, "All God made was very good." This has helped me to see everything about Will as a good thing, even the frustrating parts of the autism.
  2. We are not promised things will be easy in life. I certainly did not expect this and would not have chosen this for my son. But, I can honestly say that I have found great joy in parenting an autistic child because the rewards are so much greater. We cry with joy when he does something or learns something that a typical child's parents would simply take for granted.
  3. One of the biggest things I've learned is that we need to be people that encourage each other. I have to be honest and say that I have struggled sometimes with how people have responded. Some people try to talk me out of it: "oh, he'll grow out of that" as if it's no big deal. Let me tell you, it's a huge deal. The death of a dream huge. It's like walking through the death of someone you love. Some people don't say anything. We told a large group about Will's diagnosis and that we needed prayer and no one approached me after to offer a hug or a word of encouragement. I am so thankful for those of you who have asked questions, offered prayers, wrote cards, or just listened to me talk. And please understand that I'm not bitter at all about the other stuff. I just have learned that people walk through so much pain and that I often haven't reached out to them because I haven't known what to say or I just forget or whatever. And I understand now that that just makes the pain worse. So I encourage you to think about people in your life who are walking through some difficult stuff and reach out to them. Don't be scared of what to say...just saying that you love them and know this is a difficult time is enough.
I'm sure I'll learn so much more through this. From time to time, I'll share updates specifically about Will, his progress, and what we're learning.

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