Our story of autism: Treat the symptoms. Love the child.

We tried everything we could.  I spent hours on the computer searching for something, anything, that would undo our son’s autism.  We tried nutritional supplements.  We tried the newest and greatest therapies.  We looked for underlying health problems that could trigger autism.  And by the time he was five years old, I was exhausted, caught in a never-ending battle to find my little boy.

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A friend from church dropped by the house and gave me a sheet a paper with a verse from Hebrews 4 on it.  “There remains…a rest for the people of God.”  Oh how I longed for this rest!  I was caught up in a whirlwind of special diets, drawing blood, therapists, and doctors visits.  Could I trade it all for rest?  But what about my son?

God spoke to me clearly, an instruction that would guide the next fourteen years as we parented our child with a disability:

“TREAT THE SYMPTOMS.  LOVE THE CHILD.”

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You see, I was trying desperately to rid my son of autism.  But God was telling me to embrace the autism of my son.   I had to lay down my idea of what sons should be like and embrace how God had created my son to be.  Through the years, we did treat symptoms by pursuing therapy when needed, but we learned how to truly love the child.

I helped my son to discover the things that he was good at.  We tried Tball, but he wasn’t very interested in sticking with it.  Next was basketball, but his small frame and thin body made it hard for him to make the goals.  We tried soccer, but he seemed more interested in talking to himself on the field than in scoring goals.  When we hit music and musical theatre, we hit our stride.   We finally found his niche where he was passionate, gifted, and accepted.

We had to let go of our plan – a little boy that wanted to throw the ball with his daddy on the lawn- and embrace the boy that wanted to be in the next play instead.

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I became a student of my son.  I think of all of our family, I understood him the best.  I knew that he really didn’t like to be touched.  There was one time when he was in the emergency room with pneumonia when he was around 9 years old.  I felt guilty, sitting there reading my book and not giving him any attention.  My husband, on the other hand, was devotedly rubbing my son’s leg.  I asked my son, “Do you like that?”  And my son said, “No.”  I knew he didn’t and I had left him alone.   Score one for mom.  She knew her son well.

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I had to let go of daily hugs and physical affection because I knew that he didn’t like it.  When he was five years old, I remember laying beside him in his bed, snuggling up for some bedtime cuddles.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Can you leave now?”  He didn’t want to be touched.  This could have hurt my feelings, but I knew it was just how God made my Greg.  Every now and then I will ask for a hug and he gives me a stiff, one-armed hug.  Hey, it’s better than nothing.

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I’ve learned to overlook his rough edges.  Even though I’ve shown him how over and over, I don’t think he will ever wipe the sticky ice cream mess off the counter to my satisfaction.  I’ve let it go.  I’ve embraced disheveled, but matching clothing.  Even though I love to talk to him, I respect that sometimes he does not want to talk to me.  I know how to give him space.  Lots of it.

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I have learned to value his uniqueness.  My son may never be same type of leader that my corporate executive husband is, but when I see him gather up a child on his back and give them a heart-racing piggy back ride, my heart melts.  He refuses to smile for a camera, so I have learned to settle for a smirk.  And even though I am a perfectionist, OCD neat-nik, I let him keep his room messy.  I just don’t look.

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I’ve learned to celebrate his gifts.   Recognizing his penchant for music, I started driving him to piano lessons when he was four years old.  Later came voice lessons and drum lesson and guitar lessons, and now he is a well-rounded musician.  I’ve depended on his uncanny knack for remembering dates.  If I want to know what year we went on vacation to Washington, DC, I just ask him.  He has a mind like a steel trap – nothing escapes it.  We used his academic talents to take CLEP exams to earn college credit, and he started his freshman year at UNCW as a junior.  Can I brag and say he had a generous scholarship, too?

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Has it been a perfect journey?  Of course not.  I’ve snapped, yelled, and pitched a fit just like all other moms.   It has been a challenging journey…a constant letting go of what could have been and an embracing of what is.  On Mother’s Day my son rewarded me for these years of loving him just like he is and  trying not to make him into what our culture says he ought to be.   He wrote this in my Mother’s Day card,  “Thanks for 18 years of doing your best job to understand me enough to help me.”

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We’ve treated the symptoms.  But we’ve loved the child.

If this post touched your heart in any way, would you consider sharing it on Facebook?  I want it to reach other parents of special-needs children so that they can be encouraged in their journey of treating the symptoms but loving their child.  Thanks for your help. 

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