My Child Has Autism; He is Not Autistic
I just completed my 12th year as a special educator. Honestly, I did not go into this field because of a burning desire to help disabled children. Someone told me that my student loans could be paid off if I went into special education. With over $60,000 in student loans, I was sold!
Only God knew that, in addition to helping disabled children and their families, I was also preparing for the child I would have in 6 years. On June 13, 2007, I gave birth to Devin Matthew Walton, a child who would develop autism.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects communication and social interaction. It is usually diagnosed around age 3. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can have a very mild effect or it can be very severe.
Children with autism may exhibit delays in speech or a sudden regression in communication or other learned behaviors. It may impede their learning, interactions with others (up to complete withdrawal), ability to share affection, and eye contact; they may exhibit sensitivity of 1 or more of their 5 senses and have self-stimulatory behaviors (“stemming”), which may include flapping arms, making strange noises, spinning in circles, or banging their heads.
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S. 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, and 54 of them are boys. Although there are many theories about the causes of autism, there is no definitive causative factor and, as of now, no cure.
I prayed for Devin’s health – specifically regarding autism. I made his baby food from organic, fresh, and frozen foods. I pumped him full of vitamins and lots of veggies prior to vaccinations as it was believed at the time to be a cause of autism. I kept his brain stimulated and avoided television as much as possible. I knew the world for children with autism can be difficult, confusing, and cruel. No one wants that for their child.
Devin met all milestones within or ahead of normal limits. When he reached age 2-1/2, I noticed his peers passing him in speech development. Not long after, it was clear there was a very serious problem. Before the candles were out on his 3rd birthday cake, I had scheduled appointments with a team of specialists for a full evaluation. His speech was significantly delayed – a year behind where it should have been – but he was fine in all other areas. He had sound sensitivity, which is common in young children, so we prayed he would outgrow it as most kids do. He also walked on tip-toes (another sign of autism), but so do many in my family – including me – so we didn’t take it very seriously either.
However, because Devin met enough of the criteria for autism, he was diagnosed with it at age 3.
Since then, Devin has grown tremendously. He does well in school with special education supports. He attends weekly social skills classes to help him with pragmatic speech – his ability to participate in and maintain conversations. He is learning to answer “why” questions (although he sure can ask them!). Devin is shy with strangers but talks my head off at home. His answers to questions are sometimes off-topic – typically because he did not understand (receptive language disorder). He wants interactions with children and adults, but he must be spoken to in short sentences so he can process what is said. If people speak quickly, the words go too fast for his brain to make sense of them. His ability to express what he is thinking – expressive language – is also impacted.
I never felt let down by God. I don’t know why my only child has autism. I don’t get to pick; my job is to trust. God has been too good to me to begin to doubt Him even in this. My child is alive. His symptoms could be so much worse, but he is healthy, beautiful, smart, quick-witted, athletic, loving, and inquisitive. Like Hannah, I too proclaim, “I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.” (I Sam. 1:27).
I will have to teach Devin that he is not defined by his disability. Devin is not autistic; he is a child with autism. His disability is something for which he must learn
to accommodate, but it does not have to define or limit him.
The Lord has a plan for Devin’s life (Jer. 1:5, 29:11). Of that, I am certain. I must continually go to God for wisdom to raise this child. He has never failed to open doors, to give us favor, to provide… I am confident that He will continue to do so as His plans and purposes unfold.
Sheehan, Jan. (n.d.). 6 Facts You Need to Know About Autism http://www.parents.com/health/autism/facts/facts-about-autism/
Wikipedia. (2013). Autism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism