It was an especially hard Sunday. In my desperation I spent all day trying to find the words to express what I had on my mind. What I wanted to say. The loss, disappointment, guilt, and even anger I felt.
Nothing I found measured up. Nothing spoke to my unique situation.
See, I am a former children’s pastor. In addition, I am a counselor for kids with special needs and mental health diagnosis. I’m expected to have all the answers. To guide kids in making the right choices. To be strong. But with all these things, I am also a weary and imperfect parent. I have a son with special needs. And because of this, I end up feeling utterly alone.
Because for all the work done to make more people aware of how a kid like Hunter can present in social situations, there is still a long way to go. The fact remains that many still expect him (and many children like him) to look and act only one way. They then dismiss his overwhelming needs, and our struggles if he doesn’t.
Tell us all the things we or he need. Can I tell you for a minute what we need?
He will not forget the work you did or the love you showed for him in the help you gave and are still giving to other Christians. Hebrews 6:10
Please. If you don’t know what to do. Just say it. Ask us how you can help. Don’t simply stand by and remain silent. It only compounds our loneliness. Makes us continue to believe that no one gets it.
And once you have learned how to help us help him, teach your kids how to do the same. There is nothing more inspirational and rewarding to a kid with special needs than to have his or her peers get it, to come alongside them so they don’t feel so alone in their turmoil. I don’t expect your child to understand what autism is, or to totally be in tune with his feelings. What I do expect is for them to offer a hand. A pat on the back. A gentle word. Anything but more uncomfortable stares.
We need you to realize that while all those heartwarming stories of successes and milestones. Those happy You Tube worthy, going viral moments are wonderful; they were also made possible by many heart-wrenching ones. We need you to listen to these as much as you celebrate the successes. However, when we get the courage to share those heart-wrenching moments, we usually hear your silence.
What we really need. What we really want. Desire in the midst of the chaos. Crave beyond the stares, and covet in our quick snappiness or inability to cope is simply this: grace.
I don’t need your judgment. I don’t need you to make a comment about how I need to smile more. Or let someone know how I forgot to greet you this morning when I came into church. Did you know I listened to a 10 year old scream all morning getting dressed because he didn’t want to come? Then his underwear was too tight. His shirt was too something, and he then screamed all the way to church.
Yes. I knew I could get 5 minutes of peace in my office before the service started, so I ran there.
And, yes. I know I sit alone in the first service. Because my son is not with me. He won’t take all of my attention. I can listen to the Word unobstructed. Until the next service starts, and he is moaning about the length. The noise. A back rub. His sister. And I can’t hear anything the preacher is saying. I just need my moment now. Please.
And please understand, that…yes. He looks fine right now. In front of you. Talking to you. He is not so socially unaware that he does not understand what it is like to be embarrassed. He actually fears embarrassment like he fears the dentist. Immensely. So, he has the ability to hold all his emotions in until he gets alone with mommy or daddy and explodes. Because we are safe. We can handle it. Or so he thinks. And even if we can’t, he knows we won’t judge him. We won’t leave him. We will always love him. He just isn’t that safe around everyone else. So when he leaves this church screaming with me, it’s not because I’m an inept parent. I am a safe one.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Who recognizes as well those who have overlooked the ten-year old screaming the words “fart” or “butt” in the middle of the church service. Who simply help him mask his discomfort with his overloaded senses. Because that is what it is. And for whatever reason these totally inappropriate words at the time provide some kind of comfort. Thank you. Thank you for making it seem completely normal. And thank you for reminding him it is completely not OK to say them during the church potluck.
Thank you for being a safe enough person to him that he is completely comfortable enough with you. That he will gladly let you pick him up, even though he is 10. So he can be distracted long enough for Mommy to have a ten minute conversation after church. Because you know he was ready to leave at 12. Because church was supposed to be over at 12, and we are still here at 12:05. Thank you.
Thank you for continuing to invite us to lunch. Even though we decline every single time. Because our kid will more than likely only want a hamburger. Only from McDonald’s. And, you know. It’s 12. Church is over. And, well we must go home. But thank you for continuing to invite us. Thank you.
And most of all thank you to the those who can recognize this mom’s face. The one without the smile. The one who ran to her office as soon as she got to church. For just five minutes. Who may look harried. Who may have forgotten to say good morning. All to ensure a kid felt safe on the way to church. Thanks for stopping and asking this safe momma, “Rough morning, huh?’ Thank you.
And this safe mom is teaching this boy that grace handles getting screamed at with stoicism, “It’s OK, sweet child’s,” head massagers, and back rubs.
Accepts his apologies over and over and over; even if he will be doing it all over again next Sunday. Or when he is hungry again. Or mad because the WiFi is out. Or lonely because his sister has a play date and he feels left out. He knows this house offers grace. Safety. Security. Acceptance of his differences.
And I pray this safe mom is teaching others how to do the same.
Because you may have messed up. You may not know how to handle it. You may have thought he was just a bratty kid, and we were inept parents. Tried to help, and failed. It’s OK. We tried and failed, too. We do often. Still. But we have something to offer: Grace.
Because it’s what we all need. Autism or not. Just a side of a little bit more grace.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16