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 Mary, Micha, 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