it's been awhile now, since elijah's official diagnosis of autism. during this time, i've been on a roller coaster of emotions that are leading me closer to the lord. where else can we go, but to jesus? i'm getting to know him better. and i really think much of my seeing jesus and growing closer is because of my son. the fearfully and wonderfully way i see that elijah was created, specially wired and all, points to the mind and heart of god.
last weekend patrick and i attended the accessible kingdom conference. wow, friends. that whole thing shook me up in the greatest way. so much incredible wisdom to process! i'm so thankful for the opportunity to hear from so many amazing people and organizations, driven to make the gospel accessible to people of all abilities. i really want to share some of what i took away, today i have ten things.
choosing workshops for the conference was just not fair. i wanted to be in every single one! there was one that was mandatory in my book: ten ways children with autism help us better understand the mind of god, by cameron doolittle president and ceo of jill's house. this topic interested me for obvious reasons. the spectrum of autism is so vast, i was surprised that with each of the ten points, i saw elijah. so much of what i've felt about this special connection to god's heart, was clearly articulated and beyond encouraging to me.
because i want you to see what i see, here's a tiny glimpse from the truth of that workshop! these are cameron's points along with my own brief observations.
the way they see the world
1. they think in pictures, like god does.
matthew 13:31,33,44 v44"the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
with elijah's limited speech to tell us and not being able to see into his mind, i'm not absolutely certain...but i suspect this is true for elijah. mostly because he understands things best through pictures. i love that about him!
2. their attention to detail mirrors god's own.
luke 12:6-7 "are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? yet not one of them is forgotten by god. indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
this one really made the tears flow. all the meticulous counting, lining up, sorting and gathering we see around our house, now reminds me of this scripture. our particularly particular savior knows every minute detail of me and mine. and he treasures us and our details. you can't sneak anything past elijah, he knows his stuff. the tiniest of transformer or lego parts? one thousand percent accounted for, and cherished.
3. they see life through a text.
psalm 119:9-11 "how can a young man keep his way pure? by guarding it according to your word. with my whole heart i seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! i have stored up your word in my heart, that i might not sin against you."
i often don't know what to pray, so i open my bible and just read scripture to the lord. i'm communicating through a text not my own. elijah does this all the time. in fact, it's still his primary means of communication. he often speaks through favorite film or book lines. we once thought it was just echolalia, which is "meaningless repetition of another's spoken words". but we started to see that his repeating (and repeating and repeating and repeating...) actually meant something. one example i'm not proud of, when it began to dawn on me that he was communicating in this way...it was a bitter north dakota winter day, elijah had escaped from me as we were heading inside from the car. he ran into the street, passing the front of a moving snow plow, then slipped and fell across the street. i was so angry at him! for scaring me, for not listening for my calls to stop and come back. we were freezing cold. i dragged him inside, slammed and locked our door and cried so hard as i screamed at him. i was so scared and so upset! no reason for me to scream at him. elijah screamed back at me "no milk!! no eggs!!". farmer brown in the click, clack moo story says that when he's furious. my heart broke as i immediately realized what was happening. i was being angry and lashing out, and elijah was lashing back, in a way that made sense to him. when i open his yogurt for him, he might express thanks with "you did it, you genius cat!" from peg + cat. the other worlds of books and movies make our world make sense to elijah. he often expresses happiness, confusion, anger, anything through another "text". which, for the record, i think it's way coolor and more creative a way than i communicate :) in scripture we read about storing up god's word in our hearts that we might not sin against god. so we have ammunition for when temptation comes, to fight with the word. elijah has everything stored up, ready to help him function and communicate. no matter how he's speaking, i want to listen.
the way they understand the world
4. they work hard to focus on the voice that matters.
john 10:27 "my sheep listen to my voice; i know them, and they follow me."
like many kids on the spectrum, elijah deals with sensory issues. like with hearing. when i'm in church, i might hear other little noises, but it's easy for me to focus on the preacher's voice and hear what he's saying. elijah may hear all the noise at the same level. someone taking a cap off a pen, a sneeze in the balcony, pages being turned, feet shuffling a few pews over. all the sounds at once are overwhelming. elijah is fighting to hear the main "voice" in any situation. school, home, at a store, everywhere is a challenge for his senses. he sees everything, hears everything, feels everything differently/more intensely than i do.
5. they follow an example.
1 corinthians 11:1 " follow my example, as i follow the example of christ."
examples help elijah so much. toilet training, eating, getting dressed and even sleeping. show him something, and he can do it. examples help him know what's going on. picture schedules are helpful for him, it's just how he works best. by example. because of that, oh man! be careful what you say or do around him :)
6. they receive the gift of presence.
psalm 34:18 "the lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.
2 corinthians 12:9 "but he said to me, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' therefore i will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that christ's power may rest on me."
sometimes elijah appears to be "in his own world". i once mistakenly thought that it meant he didn't want/appreciate me being near him. i thought he couldn't see me or connect. i was so wrong! elijah loves me to be close. even when we're not engaged in an activity together, he wants to be together. with others, too. he is better than the best welcome wagon when you come, and always sad when you leave. he loves company. i realized that i must like hearing "oh, so happy you're here!! i love you forever!" or something. because i was disappointed while waiting so much for that, i missed elijah loving me his way. appreciating my nearness his way. anyway, "being there" isn't about me feeling valued, it's about being there for him.
the way they act in the world
7. they communicate explicitly, like god does.
matthew 18:15, matthew 23:27 "woe to you, teachers of the law and pharisees, you hypocrites! you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean."
galatians 3:1 "you foolish galatians! who has bewitched you?"
elijah surprises us each day with new vocabulary. and it's hilarious sometimes. we're not accustomed to him being verbal, and i kinda don't want to get used to it. it is amazing to hear him, and i always want to see his speaking for the gift that it is. anyway. he is all about the real talk. funny at home, sometimes frightening in public :) we clearly know what he's thinking. we can trust his words to be true. words mean something to him. it's a beautiful thing to keep company with someone who says exactly what they mean, and mean exactly what they say. right? i want to be more this myself!
8. they go deep on their strengths.
1 corinthians 12:18-20, romans 12:6-8 "we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. if your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."
i struggle. every day i seem to be reminded of what elijah can't do. areas he's falling short in. whether hearing from a teacher or just observing him in comparison to peers. i can't live there, in that "falling short" place. and i don't think elijah needs to live there either! we all have strengths and really need each other's strengths. just like my neurotypical self, autistics have strengths we can all benefit from! with elijah, we see weaknesses, and some need work in order for him to function in this world. letters and reading are not his strengths. numbers and anything remotely mathematic? this kid is going places, and loves singing/looking at books/watching shows/exploring about all things math. instead of only focusing on improving the weaknesses, we go hard along with him in what he's good at! he was given these gifts on purpose by his creator. let's celebrate and sharpen them! i'm so eager to see how the lord continues to use him as he grows!
9. the rejoice in the journey to health.
philippians 2:12-13 "continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is god who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."
elijah works so hard. more than we even know, he fights to understand the world around him. much of what comes easily for many takes more effort for him. when something finally clicks, like letter recognition for example, he celebrates! we all do. and it's fuel to keep going. keep striving for that growth.
10. they rest on grace.
ephesians 2:8-9 "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of god, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
elijah struggles socially, he makes a lot of mistakes. even at home with us, he comes on so strongly, or says or does the "wrong" things. i tend to be performance driven, relying on myself to do/say the right things in any situation. i'm so hard on myself when i mess up, it's difficult for me to move on, difficult to accept grace. because i feel like it's all up to me. elijah relies on those around him for cues. what to say or do next, or to see that he "messed up". always waiting for our response. i think he knows his weakness there and depends on others to help fill in the gaps. he apologizes and moves on! he so quickly "gets over" the faux pas. our prayer is that he would ultimately see jesus as the one he can completely trust and rely on for everything.
isn't this an amazing perspective?
anything you would add to this list?
keeping in mind that all autistics are different, just like we all are different and uniquely created, certain points mentioned here may not be as spot on for you or your loved one. for us, this was like hearing ten points about elijah :) i hope we will consider these, and look to clearly see god's image in not only those living with autism, but all who cross our path.