December 19, 2007

Autism in God’s Economy: Friends and Family

“Congratulations! Some one you love has autism!

You have just been given a chance to serve The Creator God, up close and personally! Run… do not walk… to your loved one and seize the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the little life that is on the fast track to stardom in God’s Universe!”

If we lived in God’s economy, this is how we would get the word that someone in our lives has been given an autism diagnosis. As it stands we live in the world’s economy and an autism diagnosis is typically met with fallen hopes, grief and mourning for the things that could have been and will probably never be. It was for Scott and me, and sometimes it still is.

But those friends and extended family who can clearly see through God’s eyes, see the chance they have been given to do good in the life of someone who is as close to an actual “innocent” as they will see in this world.

I was in an autism parenting course, and my friend Robin who was sitting next to me made an interesting comment. She had been thinking about the why of the autism epidemic. Not the mechanical ‘how’ so many children have become sick and delayed, but the ontological “why” that seeks the purpose behind it. She decided that it is because, through their uber-focused brain power, they are going to save the world.

I think she might be right about them saving the world, but I don’t think it will be through their brain power, I think it will be through their innocence. It is their innocence and vulnerability that God stands behinds and uses to judge those who come into their sphere of influence. It is precisely because they are so easy to dismiss and mistreat, that God watches closely to see which of us have extracted ourselves from our own self-centeredness and selfish ambitions to notice someone who is need and to bear their burden with them.

I think that God may be sprinkling them all around the world to give many of us a chance to show Him who we really are. Do we really serve Him, or do we serve ourselves?

The first question asked of God in the Bible was asked by Cain. He had just murdered his brother, and God came looking for him. God asked Cain where his brother was. Cain replied:

“Am I my brother’s keeper”?

It has been said that God spent the rest of the Bible answering that question. For the sake of brevity, I will sum it up for you.

Yes. You are your brother’s keeper.

You are responsible for holding up the weakest people in your world. You are responsible for grieving with the saddest people in your world. You are responsible for providing for the financially struggling people in your world. You are responsible for protecting the most innocent and vulnerable people in your world.

And every time you either live up to or shirk that responsibility, God says, “what you have done unto the Least of These, you have done unto Me”.

Let me tell you what my beloved friend Julia Fikse did for Jesus.

In January of 2004, I knew something was up with my 23 month old Chandler. The world ‘autism’ had passed through my head, but I decided I was being paranoid and that I should set it aside for now and consider it again after his 2nd birthday.

One day my friend, and Chandler’s God Mother, Julia, was over in my kitchen just hanging out and she asked about how Chandler was doing. She told me that she wanted to be able to get to know her God Son better and she was having trouble. She said, “you know… I have a friend whose son had some issues going on with him, and she got him some extra help and he is doing great now.” When she said that I felt like I an elephant had just sat on my chest. I thought, “Damn, someone else sees it too”.

I asked her if she meant autism, and told her that I had considered it, and that I would discuss it with my pediatrician at our next appointment in a few weeks. I spent those weeks reading and evaluating and by the time the appointment rolled around I didn’t have to ask him anything. I already knew. And so did he. Within a few minutes of examining Chandler he started asking me the autism screening questions, with out me mentioning anything about it.

The morning we got the diagnosis, I called Julia to let her know. By dinner time she was at my house with copy of “Facing Autism”. She had not bought it for me to read, she had gone out to the store that morning as soon as she got my phone call, and bought it for HER to read.

She was going to read the whole book and digest it in one day so could help me with what I was going through.

She had gotten through two thirds of the book when she came to something that she knew I needed to hear immediately, so she drove over and showed it to me. And let me know all the other stuff she had been learning. It turns out that before she had mentioned it to me in my kitchen that day, she had been doing her own research, and even called CARD to solicit their input and advice on whether or not her concerns were valid and how to approach me.

A few weeks later I got a call from her letting me know that she had decided that she was supposed to get people together to have a yard sale for us to raise some money so we could start Chandler’s treatment. She got 15 families to fill our entire back yard with stuff on a Friday night, and on Saturday morning the yard sale stretched across four front lawns (we had nice neighbors). She raised $3000 and we used it to start Chandler’s DAN! protocol and Sensory Integration Therapy.

She didn’t just do big things, she did lots of things. She sat with me and cried. She took me out when I needed a break. She spent a couple hundred dollars on Tomas Trains for HER house so that Chandler would enjoy being there. One morning I opened my curtains to find her pruning my roses that were a wreck because I never even noticed them any more.

This is how I know Julia loves Jesus:

When she thought Jesus might be sick, she looked into it and let his care givers know so that they could tend to him properly; she researched his illness and how to support him and his caregivers; she bugged all her friends to give up their stuff so that his care could be paid for; she cried with him when he was sad; she celebrated with him when he started to get better; she took him to dinner when he was hungry and lonely; she comforted him when he was scared; she entertained him when he was discouraged; she bought him toys and clothes; she made her home a welcome place for him; and she even tended Jesus’ garden when the regular gardener lost her marbles.

Is this how you have treated the autistic family in your life?

The reason that she was lead to do any of this is because she was paying such close attention to a very quiet boy in the first place. She was paying closer attention than even his own mother was. She wanted to get to know him better. She was paying attention to Jesus.

Who knows how much more time would have been lost in Chandler’s life if not for Julia paying attention.

Are you paying attention to the least of these in your life?

Or are you distracted by your own problems, pleasures and ambitions?

What have you done for the autistic family in your life? Have merely wished them well and told you would say a prayer for them, and then back to life as usual? If so, take a look at James 2:15-16:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Are you a Julia Fikse who tangibly bears the burdens of your disabled friends? Or are you a ‘be warm and filled” person who ultimately does nothing to lighten their load?

If you are taking a good hard look at yourself and are just now deciding that you are the latter:

“Congratulations! Some one you love has autism!

You have just been given a chance to serve The Creator God, up close and personally! Run… do not walk… to your loved one and seize the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the little life that is on the fast track to stardom in God’s Universe!”

Welcome to God’s Economy!

Autism is expensive. Go tell that family that you want to pay the cost of their B12 shots for their son for the rest of the year. Get ten friends to split up the cost of their groceries and supplements.

Autism is exhausting. Take a Saturday and care for an autistic child so that their family can just rest.

Autism is isolating. Figure out how to connect with the autistic person in your life. What do they love? Do it with them! Learn their language! Ask their family for help.

Autistic people are fascinating. Take some time, just sit with them and see what there is to see.

Autism wrecks marriages. Get the support system together to make sure those parents have free child care and dates paid for every Friday night.

Autism takes diligence. The autistic child in your world not getting all the services he should? Hit the pavement. Find out about what resources are out there and start making appointments for her parents. They spent the day cleaning up the 12 rolls of toilet paper that their daughter used to decorate her room while mom was making lunch and didn’t have the chance to get on the internet. Read the school system’s disability rights policy and go to IEP meetings to make sure that they are not being violated. Advocate for the autistic person in your life.

Autism makes people vulnerable. Protect them. Run into traffic to keep them from being hit by a car. Let it be known that, “If you mess with my boy Teddy, then you mess with me”. Put yourself in harms way for them. Be like Jesus.

You will never regret it.

Next: Those in Power Over Those With Autism

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