The 12 Lessons I Have Learned from Autism

From the day we got married we had talked about wanting to adopt.  The time had finally come we had received our license as foster parents.    We were so excited when we got the call that they had a little boy to place into our home.  He was placed in our home as a foster child with the hope that we would be able to adopt him eventually.

Zak had only been in our home for a few days when it became obvious that there were some serious issues- a lot of serious issues.   We also were in madly in love with this little guy.  His laugh was contagious; and his eyelashes were the most beautiful eyelashes I had ever seen.  The day to day life became hard; the nights were terribly long and filled with many tears (his and mine).    

 We picked up Zak from the receiving home and drove right to our pediatrician’s office.  I had no idea on the day we brought him home just how much of my days would be filled with doctor’s visits and specialist evaluations.  There were countless sleepless nights and we found out that babies can cry for an entire night; minute after minute – hour after hour!  Then there was the day time hours filled with rocking on the couch.  The repetitive noises replaced the music in our house and Zak’s days were spent  lining up one matchbox car after another.  Family meal times were filled with texture issues and more odd noises.   Evening bath-time (that used to be a happy time of bubbles and playing before Zak came) turned into a full - fledged screaming session that made me wonder what in the world the neighbors would think if they heard him – and they HAD to have been able to hear him.  It was horrible.    

Then, we got the diagnosis.  It was the first of many - AUTISM.  When I left the neurologist office I was speechless at what he had said.  He had given me the diagnosis; and then informed me that children like Zak are a lot of work.  A LOT!  He recommended that we give him back to the state.  He reasoned that he was ONLY a foster care child – and not ours.  (Did I mention before that we had fallen in love with this little guy?)  Sending him back was out of the question.  (Well, in full dis-closer here – there have been times when I questioned if someone else could do a better job.)

That was eleven years ago.  God brought Zak into our home; and with Zak came autism.  God has used autism to teach me so many things! As a Christian, I know that nothing happens in my life by mistake; and God's grace is always available to me in every situation I encounter in life.    Because I know that God is sovereign I KNOW that autism is part of God’s plan for my life.  (If you could only know how long it took for me to be able to write that last sentence).  I know that this is exactly what God has for us; and I have learned so much!    

What I have learned from Autism

1.  Sleep and autism don’t exist together

It is beyond me how Zak can have the amount of energy he has with the little amount of sleep he gets.  It boggles my mind at just how much that child does NOT sleep.  When he was younger, he would spend his nighttime hours playing cars in the early hours of the morning; but the moment the sun was up Zak hit the ground with his feet running.  (Which leads me to the next thing autism showed me…)

2.  I have an amazing husband

When our older kids were little Rob could sleep through crying as if he had ear plugs in his ears. He just did not hear our babies when they cried.  That was “pre-Zak” days.  Somehow, something happened when we got Zak – Rob heard every move he made.  It was like they were connected together.  Zak and Rob have a special bond.  Rob often slept on the couch because of Zak.  Zak would wander thru the house at night; and there was such a fear that he might try to get out the front door without us hearing him.  Rob would take to the couch to help insure that he would hear Zak if he got up and tried to get out of the house.     There were many mornings I would come down to the living room to find the two of them snuggled on the couch together. 

3.  The human body is one of God’s greatest masterpieces

Once we got the diagnosis of autism, I decided to learn all I could about the human brain. I wanted to understand how it all worked, and how Zak’s brain functioned in particular.   I learned more about the brain the first year after Zak’s autism diagnosis than I had ever learned in biology in high school!  As I studied the brain – I was amazed at the body that God had given us.  Even Zak’s brain – with all the issues - is an amazing creation of a powerful God.  God’s design of the human body is breathtaking.

4.  I am never alone

I have met a lot of people I would have never even known had it not been for autism.  Some of them have children who, like Zak, have autism.  Some have been therapist or doctors that have been a huge blessing to me as we work with Zak and his challenges.  Others have just been friends that have come along side of me when I felt overwhelmed with all the challenges.  Some have cried with me – or listened to me cry. Having a child with autism is not easy; but I am so thankful for the wonderful people who have helped me as we navigate through this journey. Autism has shown me that God never makes us go at it alone – He always brings us someone to walk with us.  Some days, it is a neighbor or a friend – and He is always with me; leading and guiding and encouraging me. I am never alone.

5.  Love is better than criticism

 In the past eleven years, I have had to walk out of church, stay home from church, and even leave a restaurant because of autism. I have seen critical eyes meet mine in disdain as they watch something they do not understand.   I have learned after many looks and even rude comments (and I have cringed when I think about how I was one of those people before Zak came) that a critical spirit towards others never helps the situation. Love helps far more than criticism.

6.  Parent the heart

There are times Zak does some really odd things.  There are even times when it appears that Zak is wrong – but because of his issues I realize that his actions were not intentional.  There is a fine line that has to be walked on here.  I cannot ignore the wrong behavior; but I cannot deal with him in the same way if he did not realize what he was doing was wrong.  Autism has taught me that I need to be ever mindful of the motives behind his actions.

7.   Have an open mind

Autism has shown me that I would do good to adhere to the old-timers advice:  “Never say never”.  Medication was something that I said I would never do; and it is now part of our lives. We also would have never thought we would send our children to public school; but Zak thrived in special education program at the school in our little Wisconsin town.  He had some of the most amazing teachers!  Coloring and drawing keeps Zak’s hands busy during church; but before we had Zak I would have never thought of allowing my kids to draw in church.   Time – outs (a parenting technique I despised) is very effective in taking Zak away from a volatile situation.  Autism has opened my mind to parenting in different ways than I ever thought I would.    

8.  I need God

There have been days that I have not been sure I could get through the entire day.  There have been moments of deep desperation.  Every single time God has been there.  I have found in Him all the strength I need for the task.  He has shown that He will give the strength to get through each day.  Autism has taught me how desperately I need God.  It has brought me to a point of complete weakness; and in that weakness I have found Him to be all I needed! 

9.   Selfishness needs to go

Several months after we got the diagnosis of autism with Zak I decided that what I needed to do was to pray and fast that God would heal Zak’s brain.  He could you know.   God could heal Zak of autism.   I began praying fervently; but then God started to show me the motive behind my prayers was not pure.  In my prayer time God started to show me that I wanted Zak to be healed of autism because I wanted my life to be easier.   It has been said, “Any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value.”(Gary Thomas)   Autism has shown me that by nature I am a very selfish person! I cannot be the parent my son needs when I am selfish.  How I have begged God to give me His love and remove selfishness!

10. I can trust God
Autism creates so many unknowns.  God knows the future; I can trust that He loves Zak even more than I love Zak.  We take it step by step / day by day.  Some days the future looks pretty bleak – other times I am hopeful. I don’t have to worry about the future.  I just trust God for today.

11.  God has a plan for Zak

 Autism has made God real to Zak.  There are many times I have found Zak on his knees in his bedroom praying and asking God to help him because he is having a difficult day.  That is how Zak lives his life - depending upon a God who loves him. God loves Zak and has a purpose for his life

12. God is Powerful

The most powerful lesson I have learned from autism is that God is more powerful than any handicap and challenge we encounter in our lives.  As a Christian, I can trust my powerful God. There is nothing too hard for Him; and He seeks to lead me every step of the way.  It has showed me that I am handicapped too – but I have a God who delights to deliver and offers grace for every situation. God can make me into the parent that my son needs - as I surrender to Him.  God can help Zak as he goes through his days and navigates through life.  God is always there. 

Today is Autsim Awareness Day.  If you are a parent of a child with autism - God is there for you.  If you do not have a relationship with Him - I would love to tell you how you can know Him in a personal way.  I cannot imagine walking this road alone!  God has been the source of my strength on even the darkest days.  Please send me an email if you would like to know more about Him - and His desire to have a relationship with you! 

Thanks for stopping by.  I am so glad you did.

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