Why My Son's Autism Is Exactly What I Needed (plus a fundraiser for a local ChildServe!)

4/29/17

If you had told me ten years ago that I would have a son with Autism Spectrum Disorder, pre-mom me would have given you a blank stare and maybe a furrowed brow. But this once vague and intimidating neurological condition has, in fact, become a familiar part of my daily life: my oldest of three sons has autism. There is a lot of fearful rhetoric around Autism but the truth is much less scary and much more beautiful than we’re told. Do my 7 year old’s neurological differences make life harder sometimes? Sure. But do they also make it better? Absolutely.

Here are seven ways that having a child with autism turned out to be exactly what I needed.
   


  1. His need for predictability forces me to be organized.
      
      I’m a notoriously disorganized person. I’ve never been good at sticking to schedules, I’m always late, and I generally have no idea what the day will hold when I start it. But having a kid with autism means I have to suck it up and adult. He needs high structure, predictability, and a definite plan- and if I want some semblance of peace I have to deliver!

2. He exposes me to things I’d never seek to learn on my own.
      
      My son’s mind is highly literal and factual. He enjoys stories here and there but if you really want to get him excited, give him a book about tornadoes. I, on the other hand, am a fiction girl through and through. I would never gravitate toward scientific books for fun! But thanks to my kid, I learn more about the earth every day.

    3. His meltdowns often sum up the way I feel inside.
      
      Does any parent enjoy managing meltdowns? Nah. And doing it multiple times every single day is no walk in the park. But sometimes there is something oddly gratifying about seeing someone express feelings in a way I’m not socially allowed to. If I can’t kick and scream over the ice cream shop being closed when we get there, someone should.

4. He works incredibly hard to make and keep friends.
     
      While I’m prone to make friends effortlessly and even take my dearest relationships for granted, social reciprocity doesn’t come easily for my boy. He puts in extra work to interact with other kids, and it inspires me to go the extra mile to appreciate the friendships in my own life.

5. He provides me with the perfect excuse to bow out early.
      
      Social settings are very stressful for my son, so short appearances are usually best. For an introvert like me who would rather be in yoga pants on the couch anyway, his anxiety is the perfect built-in reason to head home and get comfy!

6. His curiosity reveals my laziness.
     
      The constant barrage of questions about how things work- from water towers to windmills– makes me realize how content I am to not discover anything! His urgent need to know the engineering details of a machine might sometimes frustrate me, but it’s also an amazing gift to be reminded to pay attention to the opportunities to learn and grow all around me.

7. His idiosyncrasies make me more accepting of other people.
      
      Knowing my son intimately and appreciating all of his quirks has stretched me out of my comfort zone of people who all think and act like I do. Thanks to my 7 year old, I can understand better the range of neurodiversity in the world; I am much less judgmental and much more openhearted than I was before him. And if he keeps working on me, maybe I’ll be a halfway decent person by the time he graduates high school. We can hope.

FUNDRAISER TIME!

Many of you know that our family only recently received this Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, though we had our antennae up for a long time prior. Our local branch of ChildServe has been an incredible resource for our journey, and we are so thankful for the support they offer families like ours in Iowa by providing evaluation, diagnosis, and therapies.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I'm teaming up with my friend Marla at Usborne Books & More to donate as many books as possible to our local ChildServe's autism department.

How you can help: 

- Use this link to buy some books for the kids in your life, and up to 50% of the proceeds go towards books that ChildServe will receive for free through May 5th!

- Donate books directly to our Ames branch. They've even made a wishlist of Usborne books they think will most benefit their ASD kids in therapy!

- Spread the word! Whether or not you're able to purchase, please consider sharing this fundraiser on social media or even in an email to friends and family. The more ears that hear about it, the more we can shower these kiddos with new books!

*UPDATED TO ADD: My friend Marla is graciously offering to personally match a $50 purchase made from ChildServe's wishlist by midnight tonight (May 1) - that's in addition to the 50% Usborne will donate! Someone jump??  :)


Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes

4/18/17

Hey friends,

I'm committing the cardinal sin of Blogdom and popping in for a short and sweet, uninspiring update. But I wanted to let y'all know that I finally made myself a big-girl website! Woot Woot!


I wanted to make it just right before the unveiling, meaning I wanted to completely move my blog and all it's contents over there- but alas, it was not to be, and that part is going to have to wait. So for now I'll have to link between the two of them which, yes, is a pain in the arse but also means I get to sleep more than two hours a night before we move in June.

(JUNE IS SO SOON!!!)

Anyway. I hope you love it as much as I do. The Upside Down podcast schtuff is there, my freelance work is there, info on the Catholic Worker is there, and best of all...

:::drumroll:::

a huge list of my favorite book recommendations is there, categorized by Justice Issues, Spirituality, Novels/Memoirs, and Children's.  It might be my favorite part of the site.

So head over to ShannonKEvans.com and tell me what ya think? (and pssst if the links don't work, let a sista know)

Happy Easter!
Shannon

Easter at the Catholic Worker

4/11/17

Image: America Magazine

We sat side by side on a hay bale, knees under a makeshift picnic table and bellies full of homemade bread. Samantha lived in a tent by the river. I could sometimes make out the tip of it when I drove by the woods in our SUV on the way home from running errands with my kids. I had heard that she and her boyfriend were troublemakers, a reputation no doubt fueled by their respective addictions, neither of which do any favors for one’s interpersonal skills.

But there at the table, I saw no signs of all that. I saw only a woman who cooed over the baby in my arms. We made small talk, or at least attempted it, until her curiosity could contain itself no longer: “Why are you here?” she asked. She could not keep the skepticism out of her voice, and I did not blame her. I was married and clearly middle class, despite my best attempts to play it down. Why on earth was I hanging out at the Day House, a place frequented mostly by people experiencing homelessness? I chuckled low and got honest: “Because we need friends.”

Three years prior, my husband and I had returned to the United States after two years of serving as Protestant evangelical missionaries in Indonesia. When we came home, it was as first-time parents to a newly adopted son. Between reverse culture shock and the tangled web of adapting to the complications of our son’s early childhood trauma, our lifelong faith suddenly came up lacking. We prayed fervently for healing for our little boy, that his brain would be rewired to send signals of safety instead of fear, but nothing ever changed. And we began to break under the weight of our own inadequacies as our best parenting efforts failed day after day, until we barely resembled the healthy, competent people we once knew ourselves to be. I had never imagined there could be such darkness within me. But then I had never needed to.

Read the rest at America Magazine!

The Song That Autism Sings (Autism Awareness Month)

4/4/17


I figured it out by watching Parenthood.

Little Max Braverman exhibited many of my son's own behaviors except, well, more mildly. My husband and I were saucer-eyed from the pilot episode; I filed mental notes away as if all our lives depended on it because in a way, they did.

It would be two years later, just this past January, that a psychologist would officially confirm what I'd known in my gut for two trips around the sun: my boy has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

He was about to celebrate his seventh birthday. Had he been a toddler, it likely would have hit me like a ton of bricks: I would have grieved, I would have cried, I would have been afraid. But when you're loving and living with a brain that spins in an entirely different pattern than your own for years, you've already known that fear of a life you can't imagine and don't understand- you've looked that fear in the eye and felt sure it would bury you. But it didn't.

Eventually, parents of children with Autism find a way to counter fear with joy, whether it comes before the diagnosis or after. Not because we are superhuman creatures, but because our children are. We see them make their way through a world that wasn't built for them, and we determine to change it. We see them overcome their debilitating anxiety to participate in mundane events, and we're inspired to be more heroic ourselves. We see them crumble when it all feels too much, and the deep groan of love propels us to fight when they can't. In laughter and in tears, in failure and in occasional success, we learn to find a way beyond our own doubts and limitations.

Our understanding of the world and our place within it shatters. It has to, for there to be room for our child in it. But as we rebuild a life out of the shards (occasionally bloodying our hands on the pieces and bandaging them up for each other) it becomes apparent that the window through which we view everything is now stained glass, fit for the most glorious cathedral and - wouldn't you know it? - the presence of God.

This is the gift that Autism offers the world; this is the song that Autism sings. It is in breaking open that we are made whole, and it is in embracing each other in all our imperfections that we can finally recognize the image of God that was right in front of us the whole time.

Today we are surrounded by demand for "perfection" on every side. Efforts are being made to systematically eradicate genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome, reeking heavily of a Hitlerian disdain for the differently abled. Well that's the "depraved world", a Christian might say. But within some streams of Christianity, the singular emphasis on God's healing power unintentionally sends the same message: an atypical life is somehow not as valuable. Maybe we don't believe weakness, dependence, and suffering can glorify God. Maybe we think He secretly only likes the impressively-abled ones. Maybe deep down, we think God is just like us.

My son is a phenomenal human being. The label of Autism helps us understand him but it does not define him and indeed, he often blatantly defies it. We have found strategies and medication that have been life-changing for him and much to our happy bewilderment his teachers report he is a model student. And yet still, life is harder for him than for many other kids. Life is harder for us than for many other parents. But a hard life does not mean a less valuable life. On the contrary, I would challenge us to question whether individuals with special needs don't invite the rest of us in to a life more abundant, one that transforms us from the inside out. It's Good News. It's Gospel.

If it's good news for some of us, it's good news for all of us, or it's not good news at all. And the Good News for people like you and me - the neurotypical, the "strong" - is that our weaknesses, our fatal flaws, don't disqualify us from bearing the image of a Loving God or of bringing good and dignified gifts into a world that needs them. We are enough, every single one of us. We have dignity and glory and beauty and complexity and we are so much more than enough.

Just as we are.


In my journey, I have been inspired by the words of other special needs mothers. Most are softened souls that speak into my literal ear and will never be known as internet famous, but there are also women like MaryMicha, and Kelly, who write online for the rest of us to draw from their wells. If you don't know their stories, I invite you to sit under their wisdom for as long as your coffee stays warm.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Blink (for the parents of the different kind of kid)
What It Means to Say Yes to Adoption
In Defense of ADHD
When You're Still Looking for the Kingdom of God

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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