I remember clearly the night I heard my father (a psychologist) tell me he thought my son had a developmental disorder. I had called to vent about the day’s frustrations with my 18 month old who was completely non-verbal and uninterested in bonding with me or anyone else- but it never occurred to me that he could have autism. I directed my thoughts to a particular website my father recommended, and within an hour I was both heartbroken to a degree I had never experienced and yet also relieved that there were answers. The year that followed can only be described as busy, dark, and lonely. I had no friends who could begin to understand or support us; everywhere I turned people said the wrong thing or not enough. Either they failed to recognize the struggle, or they brushed it aside with uneducated platitudes that were unintentionally hurtful.
I have said to moms before that there is a commonality in special needs parenting regardless of the diagnosis- whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or chronic health problems. The same process occurs when we hear the doctor utter the words our hearts may have already known were true. It’s an undeniable pain and every parent must go through a form of grieving. I personally had to grieve for the dreams I so lovingly imagined the day my son was born; dreams that he would grow up, have friends, graduate, go to college, get married, have kids- all with his peers. I had to let those dreams die and learn to live in the moment to simply survive my new reality. Nothing had really changed to the outsider looking in- my son was still my son, same as he always was- but on the inside, in my heart, everything was changed and I was drowning. I am now 5 years into this autism journey and I can say it took me nearly 3 years to fully cycle through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). I still have rough days. I still feel anger or depressions on occasion, but by God’s grace I am finally in a place of peace.
We have all heard and potentially even said these things to a struggling friend: “God gives special children to special parents” and “God only gives you what you can handle”. What I have learned is that instead of giving special children to special parents, God actually gives special children to families whom he will show HIMSELF special to.
Psalm 50:15 says, “Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory”.
The original phrase puts the glory on the parents, instead of on God. God did not make my child by accident.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
His disability was not an accident nor is this detail forgotten by God!
“The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
The great news is that God promises a good hope and a future for our children and John 9:3 assures us that God uses disabilities to show HIS goodness.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
The second lesson I learned from being a special needs parent is that the basics of faith are stretch and lived out within a disability, and the gospel is displayed in caregiving. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Oh how my faith has been stretched- painfully so. Many days I cling to God’s promises in scripture to get me through. When I lay down at night in utter exhaustion thinking to myself I can’t continue like this, I can’t manage, I can’t figure it out, I’m too tired, I’m not able, or I’m not qualified; I recite these promises: It will be worth it (Romans 8:28), His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9), He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19), He will direct my steps (Proverbs 3:5-6), He will give me rest (Matthew 11:28-30), and He is able (Ephesians 3:20).