Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wonderfully Complex

Both Belinda and I belong to The Word Guild - an organization of Canadian writers who are Christian. As members, we are part of a listserve, which emails I read regularly, but respond to very few.

There was an exchange yesterday, though, that I couldn't help getting into.

A little background: There is a weekly question provided to the listserve which is intended to create discussion and promote community. This week's question was "What are your dreams?"

One young man wrote in that he would like to write an autobiography (and other writings) from a very unique perspective - as one having high-functioning autism. He also mentioned in his email the possibility of being "cured" of autism.

Belinda repsonded to that by saying that she thought it was interesting that he had mentioned being cured, "when I would consider who God made you to be a gift."

Another writer responded to that quickly and simply - saying to Belinda (with a smiley attached)that she would have to explain that comment.

That immediately implied to me that either the person could not understand how anyone could think of someone who is "afflicted with autism" as being any kind of a "gift", or that there was an understanding many others have that view and it merited an explanation.

As the mother of one very special young man who is considered to have "high functioning autism" (or Asperger's Syndrome - I refuse to call it a "disorder"), I couldn't help adding my two cents worth to the discussion and wrote a response. I felt like I knew exactly what Belinda meant, and couldn't help saying so.

Hours later - in the middle of the night - I was sitting here at my computer with no idea of what to write for the blog this morning. I heard David rooting about in the kitchen for something to eat (it's nearly 3:30 a.m. We keep odd hours :o) ) I called to him. "Hey Dave, come here and listen to what I wrote about you tonight." I read the email exchange to him and he smiled his dear, goofy grin."That's EXACTLY true," he said emphatically and gave me a high five. (Truth, and exact truth at that, is very important to him.)

Instantly, and with great relief, I knew I had my post for this morning. (I want to go back to bed! :o) )In that email response, I think, is a message for all of us in accepting ourselves exactly as God made us - not that there isn't room for improvement in terms of our behaviour and the way we think! But without further adieu, here is what I said with a few minor edits...

If this lurker may be so bold, I think I know exactly what Belinda means...I wrote an article about my son last year. The editor inserted the following subtitle: Following His Dream: David's pursuit of an engineering degree despite autism."

David didn't like that title. He said, "It's not despite my autism, it's BECAUSE of it!" He views his autism as "who" he is, an absolutely integral and inseparable part of his identity. It comes with challenges, yes, but also with a huge set of enviable strengths. It's something he wouldn't change, even if he could. (Thank God, because we really like him just like he is!)

David says that if there was a "cure", he wouldn't take it. He is offended when people want to pray for him for healing, because it implies to him that God must have made some kind of mistake when He put him together. And he doesn't like it at all when autism is referred to as a "disorder", preferring the term "syndrome" for obvious reasons.

David maintains a 90's average with a full course load, in a course of study he was advised by Disability Services at the university, not to take. "Too stressful for someone like you," they said. And if he insisted on pursuing it, they suggested he take only three credits a semester instead of the usual five. David looked at that suggestion with disdain. "If God wants me to take this course," he said, "then I should take 100% of it, not 60."

He requires a lot of support - something we thought we would be providing for the rest of his life. But David surprised us last year by showing us that he was perfectly capable of assessing his own need and building his own support system around himself. We're very proud of him! Sure there are challenges. He can't cross a busy street without a traffic light to assist him and sometimes walks 30 minutes out of his way to get to a class that is directly across the street. He can't bring himself to take a cab or get on a city bus, and requires hours of coaching from his parents or one of his siblings in order to be able approach a prof. for help, or to fill out an application. When he developed a very painful infection around an impacted wisdom tooth last year, he could not bring himself to go the emergency room at the hospital which was only blocks away, and waited instead for his dentist-uncle to come by the next morning. Even small decisions are often agonising and anxiety is a constant companion. But his strengths are amazing.

He has a fine mind - a very unique and logical perspective on the world. He amazes us with his profundity at times and his relationship with God and growing understanding of His ways is something we should all have.

I hope that somewhere between these lines you can find at least part of the answer to what Belinda meant... (though I'm sure she will do a much better job of explaining it herself!)Blessings, Susan.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!" Psalm 139: 13-17, NLT.

By Susan Stewart

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