I already knew I wanted Vanessa to share with my readers here, but when she wrote on her own blog about getting help for our children when they need it, it was clearly time! I am so thankful she sat down in the middle of everything else and poured out her heart for us. This is long (even though I edited), so go heat up your coffee (or whatever) and then "listen" to Vanessa for a few minutes.
The first few times I said special needs, Autism or something similar, I brawled, I sobbed, I cried. I grieved actively (by which I mean I cried every day) for several months, then on and off. I’d be fine for awhile but then the grief would hit me for a few weeks, and I’d be a weepy mess again, just able to do the day to day things, and nothing more.
But since then I’ve been—and am still—broken. I’ve allowed God to do what He wishes in my life. In other words, I accept what has happened. I’m not fighting, and I’m not running in the opposite direction.
I’ve also been restored and refreshed and held in loving hands. He has walked with me and watched me…and He knows.
Three years ago, our son was diagnosed with Autism. He was 3 years old.
Before the diagnosis, he had already had speech therapy at home, then with our school district. They transferred him to the Early Childhood Program for the Autistic Preschool, where he received his diagnosis. When we received approval from the insurance, we transferred him to home ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) for 30-35 hours a week, and after being on the waiting list for a year and a half, we transferred him to a center-based ABA therapy.
This has been a long three-year process for all four of us. My husband and I have struggled and survived and thrived. My daughter has learned to live with a brother who constantly needs us and requires a lot of attention. She has matured and grown and knows how to ask for her needs and for attention from us.
Our little boy has a fun personality and a great sense of humor. Even with his rigidity and obsessions, he’s adaptable and easy going. I promise you that is not an oxymoron!
I struggled with my identity through all the changes and have slowly and reluctantly let go of what I expected to do and be for my son. I’m his mother, and love him to bits, and I’d go through fire and storm to keep him safe, but… BUT. Sometimes I don’t know how to help him. Sometimes I have no idea of what he wants or what he is trying to communicate. Sometimes I don’t know how to deal with him.
At such times, it’s annoying and embarrassing to know that others (who are not his mother) know better. Therapists who knew what to do walked in and out of my door daily for the two years we did home therapy. Most of the time (99.9%), they were younger than me. Frequently (90%) they did not have kids. And they still knew what to do.
Therapists have firmly and gently let me know that they will deal with his meltdowns (they did not want my son to run and hide behind me every time they asked him to do something). Therapists have explained what they did that worked (which I wouldn’t have know to try). When I was baffled, therapists told me “I think he’s feeling…,” and they were right.
Through this journey, I’ve learned to let them do what they are good at while I tried to step back. I’ve learned my boy still needs me as his Mom (He runs to me for comfort and security.), but I’m not necessarily the best person to help him with challenging behaviors. I’ve also learned that my daughter needs me as much as her brother, and so when there was a therapist at home to focus on my son, I’ve spent with her. I had to let go of my expectation of doing everything for both kids.
Right now, my son is at a center. I drop him off in the mornings and pick him up in the evenings like I was dropping him off at school. During the day he’s in the very good hands of several therapists. I get updates when I pick him up, but I’m not watching every minute of his therapy. I have options to go to the center and watch (with permission) a couple days a week, but so far I’ve only done that once!
Here’s where I think the therapists are helping to raise him. Children “catch” things and are not really “taught” everything. Do you remember telling your child a carrot was orange and an apple red? I didn’t for my daughter and she still knows the difference, but we had to teach my son such facts with pictures and 3-D objects, and it took several years. For him, everything needs to be taught: from body parts, to being kind, to looking when his name is called, to a myriad of things that make a child successful in society. He has taught himself things he is interested in, including alphabets, spelling complex words, numbers up to 1000 or more, and now colors and numbers in Spanish.
Everything he learns at therapy is designed to make him successful in society. When my daughter was five and six, she received stickers or a “good color” on the chart for listening, for obeying, for being quiet when she asked to be, or for sitting still/doing her work while the teacher helped someone else. She did not really receive stickers for her academic knowledge. It was her behavior that made her “a lovely child to have in class.” My son, her younger brother, will beat her for knowledge (he’s reading at a 3rd grade level and math is quite high as well), but for behavior he’s far behind.
He’s not the only one who’s been learning for the past three years.
- I have learned it is all right to accept help from these (younger) therapists.
- I have learned to let them teach him and me what to do, without it affecting my ego and my pride.
- I have learned to be his mom and only his mom, while I am still my daughter’s mother and teacher in so many ways.
- I have learned this is a season in which God has us for His Glory, as always.
- It’s a season (even if it lasts all my life) in which He refines me and breaks me and molds me in His image.
- It’s a season in which I take the comfort I have received, and I reach out to comfort those going through something similar.
- It’s a season to mourn, yes, but also to rejoice.
- It’s a season to acknowledge my weakness, and to lean completely on His strength.
He who made the heavens and the earth, made me in His image to reflect His Glory (Psalm 8). He made my son as well.
He who has plans and a purpose for me and created me in advance to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). He has a plan and purpose for my son too.
In John 9 the disciples asked Jesus about the man blind from birth. They wanted to know who had sinned, the blind man or his parents. Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3), and then He healed the man. I hold on to this promise for my son. This happened so that the works of God will be manifested in him.
Asking for help, especially for our children in areas where we are deficient, is a blow to our self-esteem, our pride, and our identity. BUT. We need to find our identity in Christ alone. We need to look to Him to pat us on our back and say, “I see you, precious child. I love how hard you’re working. I know your sorrow. Lean into me, Take My strength. Accept help, it’ll be all right.” We don’t have to accept what society expects of us to do for our children.
Sometimes letting others help us raise our children is the best thing we can do for them.
As I told Vanessa when she first sent these words to me, this is one of the most raw and beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. I see her putting her foot down, standing firm on what is true of herself, her son, and our God. Send her a little encouragement in the comments below and/or connect with her via the links in her bio. If you’re willing, we would also love to hear (in the comments) how your life has been affected by Autism.
Vanessa Samuel is wife to a pediatric specialist and mother to two children, one of whom is on the Autism Spectrum. Her family has lived in three different states for her husband’s work. She’s constantly putting down roots and pulling them up again. Her one Rock through it all, however, has been Her Savior. She loves writing. Through her blog she desires to help people discover the beauty and wonder found in Scripture, and so turn their eyes upon The Author.