On December 16, 1998 I became something I never expected to be. I became the mother of a disabled child. On that day, in a dreary hospital office of a "leading" children's neurologist, my then, three year old son Ryan was formerly diagnosed with autism. It is a diagnosis that our brains had come to accept over the previous few months but our hearts had yet to embrace. Sitting in that office hearing the word I had been dreading for a while I was rattled and heartsick. It barely even registered when the doctor pointed at my large, six months pregnant belly and said quite callously, "it looks like it's too late to do anything about that now."
It didn't hit me until I loaded Ryan and Katie into their car seats and settled my large, waddly self in the car. He meant I should not be having this joyously expected third baby. The third baby, now eight years old, who is endlessly patient and understanding of her older brother's abnormalities. That third baby, who greets each new baby into the family with gentle hands and loving caresses? This is the baby I shouldn't have had?
Well fortunately there are other neurologists and other hospitals. There have also been other babies. We are now a family of seven children and God has provided Ryan with a group of siblings who take his progress to heart in a way that constantly touches me.
From the beginning it was just necessary to surrender this parenting a "special child" to God. My husband and I felt unequipped to deal with the new role that had been thrust upon us so we decided not to make this journey alone. God had to be our constant companion. He made this leap of faith in trusting us with this extraordinary child and we had to believe that the Almighty had a plan and that we needed His help to accomplish it. Our faith in God has been more that rewarded and Ryan is growing to be a gifted and extraordinary person.
In an environment where he is loved by a passel of younger children no matter how oddly he behaves Ryan has become more than any of the doctors ever considered he could be. He is the object of some hero worship by our baby twins who love to hear him play the guitar and sing to them. In sharing a day with their brother patience, fortitude, love, compassion, humility are all part of my children's everyday lives. It is often difficult but always worth the effort.
Autism is often an ugly thing. The people affected are difficult to live with, unreasonable, not affectionate and immensely stubborn. They have odd quirks and weird obsessions. They have an average life expectancy and therefore must somehow have provisions made. They are also uncommonly beautiful and often gifted musically (as in Ryan's case), artistically or mechanically. They enhance their families and they make the world a better place. The large amount of autistic people currently part of our society will force us all to be more compassionate and less judgmental. Is the child in the grocery store having a tantrum or experiencing pain due to his sensory problems? Is the man is church who won't meet your eye rude or unable to do so because his brain is wired differently?
The current trend of pre-natal testing in order to discover any imperfections in an infant before it is born has led to the evil of exterminating some of the more beautiful flowers in our garden. When we weed the wildflowers out of the garden in favor of the perfectly cultivated pure breeds we diminish the whole garden. When we stop having children because they may not be physically or emotionally perfect we diminish our families, our society and our souls. My other children have a living breathing means to heaven right here in their home. Understanding their brother, loving their brother and taking care of him have forced them to think differently about people and to experience the fruits of real compassion on a daily basis.
As the parent of a child with a disability you are constantly barraged with the propaganda of the anti-life, pro-perfect people movement. "Why would you take the chance of having another like him?" I was once asked at, of all places, a child's birthday party. The fact is that it has never occurred to us to not have more children because one might be disabled. The same way it never occurred to us to not have more because one might turn out to have bucked teeth or a large bulbous nose. We have welcomed each child as the gift and blessing that God has intended.
Ryan was chosen for our family time out of mind by God. He is our escalator to heaven and we are grateful for this gift God has given us, this means to acquire virtues we would otherwise not acquire and ultimately gain eternal salvation. I'm not so sure I'd have much of a shot without him.