Monday, February 4, 2013

The Kids Are All Right

Right after Owen was diagnosed with autism, I was overwhelmed with immense feelings of doubt.  Feelings of inadequacy.  Feelings that I'm sure virtually every parent of a special needs child experiences at one time or another (well, shoot...feelings that every parent period probably experiences at some point - kids are hard, man!)

How am I going to do this?
I'm not qualified for this.
Doesn't God know I can't handle this?
Why this?

As so often happens, God - in His infinite wisdom - put people in my path who were able to gift me with messages that I so desperately needed to hear at precisely that moment.   So very many people had words of wisdom, words of comfort, and words of support.  One friend in particular shared with me a story that he had heard about Rich Mullins, one of my very favorite musicians.  As the story goes, Rich's sister had a baby who was born with a birth defect, and as so many parents are, she was devastated and plagued with guilt, blaming herself for what had gone wrong.  Rich told her that he was proud of her, because God sends special needs kids to special parents who are able to give them special love.  A woman I work with said nearly the same thing to me.  When I shared Owen's diagnosis with her, tears immediately came to her eyes.  She looked directly at me and said, "God knows what He's doing.  He knows that you and Bill are just the type of parents that Owen needs right now.  He knows that you will see that he gets absolutely the best care.  If anyone can handle it, you can."

He's a handful, all right! 

A very wise friend (seriously...I want to be just like her when I "grow up") told me that she believes that God not only gives our children to us because He knows the kinds of parents they need, but because He knows the kinds of children we need.  Sure, I do my best, along with my family, to get Owen the help that he so desperately deserves.  That's a no-brainer.  If there's a way to help him navigate through this crazy world that is even more confusing to him than it is to the rest of us, I'm going to do everything in my power to find it.  If there's a way for me to teach him something that will help him grow and mature and function as successfully and independently as possible, I'm going to do my absolute best to work with him.  As far as I'm concerned, though, I've learned so much more from Owen than he will ever learn from me.

I can freely admit, without a moment's hesitation, that my personality doesn't have many redemptive qualities.  I am dreadfully impatient by nature.  I'm not overly compassionate or empathetic (I say this with great shame, but it's use lying to myself about it).  I'm not very good at being flexible and can be pretty "My way or the highway, Buster" about a lot of things.  Those are all highly unflattering characteristics.  They look really ugly written down.

In the door walks autism.  It takes a good, long, hard look at my shortcomings, and it laughs.  Loudly.  From the belly.  "Silly girl," it scoffs.  "Life has never been about you, and it certainly isn't about you now."  It takes my impatience, my self-absorbed nature, and my Type-A personality and tosses them straight out the window.  God has used both autism and this wonderful little person to teach me many, many lessons.  I have no choice but to be patient.  I'm likely never going to see quick results from our hard work, and my frustration only leads to frustration for Owen.  Therefore, I've got to slow down, focus, and take things one step at a time.  I've learned over the past several months that the world simply is not going to be as empathetic and compassionate about Owen as he deserves for it to be.  You would not believe the things we hear during a short trip to Wal-Mart.  As such, I need to be understanding and further develop my compassion, since the world often won't pay him that kindness.  (Unfortunately, my understanding and compassion don't always extend to those rude folks at me.)  Over time, I've also learned that I have to be more pliable and bend to Owen's particular needs at the moment.  Yes, much of Owen's success hinges upon the adherence to a routine, but the simple truth is that sometimes, my best-laid plans just aren't going to work, and I have to come up with a new course of action.  Owen dictates a lot of the routes that we take, as opposed to me.  A year ago, that would have stressed me out to the max.  Now, I understand that it's necessary  for me to adopt a philosophy of flexibility.  No two days are the same, so I've had to learn to adjust to that.

It would be easy to make this blog entirely about Owen.  He's the one who is most directly impacted by autism, but the fact remains that this journey belongs to all of his parents, his brother, his teachers, his therapists, his doctors, his friends, and his extended family.  As much as God knew that we had lessons to learn from Owen, He sent us just what we needed in the form of Joshua as well.

Don't let the picture fool you...he's a handful, too!

As Josh started growing up and developing his own personality, Bill and I wondered to ourselves on numerous occasions, "Where on earth did this child come from?"  I can be paralyzingly introverted around people I don't know.  Put me in a room full of strangers, and I practically curl up into the fetal position.  Once I get to know people, I'm as talkative as the next gal, but it takes me a while to warm up to new folks.  Josh is the polar opposite.  The child has never met a stranger.  It scared me a bit when he was little; I lived in fear that he'd just take off with someone.  However, as he gets older, we see how much of a blessing it is.  Josh lives to make people comfortable.  If we have a visitor at church, Josh is guaranteed to be sitting next to them and carrying out a conversation within about 15 seconds of walking into the room.  He has a genuine love for people, untarnished by the cynicism that can plague so many adult relationships.

Josh adores spending time with the elderly and people with special needs, a trait that existed long before we knew anything about Owen's autism.  It is imperative to Josh that everyone feel loved and important.  That aspect of his personality has exploded since Owen was born.  Josh has always been fiercely loyal toward and protective of his brother (Josh was six when Owen was born, so we expected some jealously...not even the tiniest shred appeared).  After Owen's diagnosis, Josh's loyalty and protection sprouted new blossoms, and he is now Owen's most ardent defender.  He has an understanding of autism and a patience with his brother that belies his years.  I wholeheartedly believe that God knew the situation in which we would find ourselves down the road, so He provided Josh, knowing that he would be just the child that we needed and just the brother that Owen deserved.

When I'm feeling down, I find it therapeutic and extremely helpful to try to stop looking at the hardships and focus on all of the blessings that I have.  My beautiful children are just two of many, many blessings with which I've been bestowed.  It can be very, very (a thousand times very) easy for families affected by autism to look at their situations and become exhausted, exasperated, and defeated.  Heaven knows that I've found myself circling the drain a number of times over the past several months. The key is to look for silver linings amongst the clouds.  They can be extraordinarily hard to see sometimes, and you have to make a concerted effort to look past the rain, but they're there, just waiting to be discovered.  Find your silver lining, my friends.

"And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." - Romans 8:28

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this blog Danielle. It has been very informative and enlightening. I am very proud of you guys for all you have done for Owen and the love and care you show him.
    Love you guys!