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A Strange Gift

November 7, 2011

“God must have Aspergers, because he doesn’t understand sarcasm.”  This has become a common saying in our house. Last spring, when doctors were coming up with all kinds of terrifying potential syndromes that our baby girl might have, we jokingly said to each other, “wouldn’t it be nice if it was only autism.” In our experience, autism has been challenging, yes, but not scary. Not life-threatening. It is life-altering.  Well, wouldn’t you know, God must have heard us! “You asked for it, you got it!”  Thanks Big Guy! 😉  

The best gifts are the unexpected ones. I can’t say as we really planned for our first pregnancy. He was a bit of a surprise, but I can’t imagine ever wanting anything more than that precious little bundle.  As new parents, we fumbled our way through those early days as best we could. We figured life out as it came at us, managing it all with a lot of love and a good sense of humor.  As we started to discover that each of our children was autistic, we started to discover their gifts as well. Each of them is affected differently, as are all children with autism. Each of them has their difficulties to be sure, but each has been blessed with amazing talents and gifts.  I suppose that’s what makes it easier for us to accept their autism- by focusing on their strengths.

Our youngest daughter is, by far, the most severely affected. She is non-verbal and regressing, even now, as we have her participating in intense therapy.  Some days it is very difficult to call her autism a gift.  Tonight she woke up crying, I assume from cramps brought on by the iron supplements she is currently taking for her anemia. I say that I assume, because she can’t tell me. She can’t tell me why she is upset. She can’t even point to her tummy and say “hurt.”  When she has a bad dream, she can’t tell us about it. She can’t even say “mama” anymore. This “gift” has stolen her language. This “gift” is stealing her away from me a little more each day.  Every once in a while, I can see a little bit of brilliance shine through the mask that autism has placed over her face. I see a smile or a dance that lets me know she’s still in there.  She loves music. She will dance to music that isn’t even playing.  Her therapist tells me she’s “scripting” music, just as my older daughter scripts conversations by piecing together lines from movies or even phrases she’s heard from me.  The autistic mind is something like a tape recorder, and my youngest daughter is replaying a song in her head so vividly that she dances to it.  We’ve been discovering also that she loves books. This might be part of her visual stimming, but it also seems to be a genuine love of books.  It’s not really at all a stretch to believe there might be some sort of genius brewing in there.

The other night, my son had the boys from his class over for a Cars 2 watching party, and then one stayed over for a sleepover. I can’t tell you how excited he was, but if you had been within a 1 mile radius of our house that night, I probably don’t have to! Because he has autism, he has difficulty controlling his emotions.  Because he has autism, he doesn’t have that impulse to even try. Often, this makes life difficult for us, but it does make life more exciting too.  As soon as he got home from school, my boy pressed his face against the glass of our storm door, asking how long it would be until his friends arrived. When the first one finally did, he went crazy. He was running and screaming with delight, through the house and into the back yard with his friends.  He feels and expresses each of his emotions with such incredible force. The lows are lower, but for sure the highs are higher. That whole night, he sat beaming on the couch watching his friends watching his movie. He was even a little more proud when he heard that the older brothers of some of his friends were upset that they couldn’t come. One of the mothers ran the dvd copy of the movie over to two of the boys – one was missing the party to sit with the other during his chemotherapy treatment.  I could tell my son was feeling a little like a celebrity that his party was spreading to someone else’s house in some way.  As heart wrenching and frustrating as it often is to experience his meltdowns with him, watching the extreme joy and pride he felt that night with such intensity did make his autism feel like a strange gift.

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