I began blogging about our journey with autism over three years ago, just before our child was first diagnosed, over on my site Rev-o-lution. At the time, in 2011, my family lived in Oklahoma. This first blog entry, “Top Ten things I have learned along the autism spectrum journey” sums up a little of what I had experienced prior to AJ’s diagnosis, as it was written the day before. The evening after our son’s appointment and diagnosis, I wrote “1 in 110 children, 1 in 70 boys” (which was the diagnosis rate statistics in 2011–it is currently 1 out of 68 children and 1 out of 42 boys according to the CDC). And about a year later, once we had moved to the Seattle area, I wrote “The Starbucks Welcome” about challenges we have faced, as well as times we were embraced by the church when visiting with our child with autism.
These were my first blog posts. The first steps for anyone to learn about welcoming people with autism into the church is to listen to one’s story. Listen to a family with a child with autism. Meet an adult with autism. Listen to their stories. Learn their challenges as well as their gifts (notice in both blog posts, I listed some of AJ’s gifts). And if you are a parent of someone with autism or you yourself are on the autism spectrum, it is important to share your stories, too.
Today, my husband and I along with our child went to visit one of my husband’s church members who is dying. We had another engagement to attend and needed to stop by on our way.
AJ has been to visit people dying before. I do not know how much AJ understands, or any child his age would understand, but he visited my grandmother in her last days. He seems to know something is different as we gather around the hospital bed, as oxygen lines run from the person to a machine. He crept around the bed slowly, and the woman’s eyes opened. She smiled and waved, ever-so-gently, to him. And he smiled back.
Five minutes before, he was having a meltdown in the kitchen of this home because he wanted to eat something and had opened the fridge, and I had said “no.” Pastoral visitations with him in tow have been difficult in the past–he wants to get into anything and everything. He is starting to understand that he cannot eat food off of other people’s plates, but as evidenced by the next home we visited where there was a New Year’s celebration, he took a cookie, tore off a piece and put the rest back on the platter. I had to follow behind to pick up the pieces he left on the platter, to put on his plate and remind him to eat off of his own plate.
I don’t normally bring him on pastoral visits, and neither does my husband, but every now and then it cannot be avoided. And while it can be awkward and difficult, I’m glad he visited this woman today, and gave her a reason to smile and wave one more time.