I hate Autism. I can never say that enough. Because of the way that it attacks children and causes such suffering in them it is one of the nearest things to evil incarnate in this world. My son Anthony has Autism and like most kids on the Spectrum, Anthony has a tipping point. Often we cannot tell when he is about to reach it, but there is no doubting once he does. One morning when we were away on vacation and on our way to Mass, Anthony reached it. The stress of no structure on vacation, going to Mass in a new place and not having his usual “transition items” he carries with him to Mass was way too much. This particular morning he decided that it was me that was the problem. It began with a litany of hatred—“I hate you,” “I am going to kill you” and then it got physical. He looked for something to throw at me. First a shoe, then a sock, then a pencil and then He found a metal spray can and with pinpoint accuracy hit me in the head.
When he rages like this he is so completely out of control that we have to restrain him or let him tire himself out. When we got to the Church I left the car with my other boys and went into Mass. Once he no longer had the object of his rage in his sight he was able to calm down. After he came into Mass it was as if nothing had happened. Afterwards, we got back into the car and started home. About 30 minutes into the ride, he asked for something to eat. I gave him a snack out of our snack bag and he looked me in the eye and said “I am sorry Daddy.” It was all I could do to choke out “I forgive you” before the flood of tears came to my eyes. I looked at my wife and her eyes were flooded too. It was not just the fact that he said he was sorry and truly meant it. That is huge for any kid with autism. It was why he said he was sorry that made me cry. He said sorry because he had experienced my unconditional love. The fact that I gave him something to eat triggered in his heart affection for me, but he also knew that he had somehow rejected that love even if he was out of his mind when he did it.
I cried not only because I was happy he was able to grasp something that I never thought he would. It touched my heart even more deeply because it revealed something to me of God’s Fatherhood and His love for me. I was able to see that even when I am sorry, it is first because he loves me and shows me His love. It is the experience of His love that causes me to seek forgiveness. The first movement is always His and He never ceases to be moving toward me. I simply have to allow Him to touch me.
There are hundreds of more stories like this. Each time Anthony does something that seems so simple for neuro-typical children I am utterly amazed at how wonderfully made Anthony is (Ps 139:4). I take nothing for granted. Every step is a giant step. I live a life of gratitude for so many “little things.” There have been so many blessings in our lives because of Anthony’s cross.
Some among us might look at the blessings and assume that Autism itself is a blessing. In fact there are many parents who have children on the spectrum that say exactly that. This is partly a means to help them cope and partly because things like Autism are so connected to their personality that they think removing it would somehow change who they are. To adopt either of these viewpoints however makes it about me. It is about Anthony and kids like him. My heart aches when I see him struggle. It aches when I know how deeply he regrets his loss of control and thinks everyone around him hates him. Sometimes my heart even breaks and I think Autism has won. The pain of watching one of my children suffer has left me forever different and wounded. But this is about Anthony. It is him that suffers with it. He is Christ, I am merely Simon of Cyrene. I refuse to pretend it is otherwise. I will not ask Anthony to come down off his cross by pretending it is not a cross. He is a suffering soul and it might just be his cross that saves me.
There is only one reason why I can see Autism with such clarity; it is because I know at the very core of my being that God is good. Nothing will ever change that. The devil can use Autism to shake that but God just uses His divine judo to convince me more deeply of the Truth. If He can bring good out of the darkness of Autism then He really is all-powerful. If He can take an arrogant, judgmental fool and make Him compassionate through suffering, then He is all-merciful. If He can make an impatient man patient then He is all-wise.
Anthony is often ostracized because of his strange behavior. Kids mock him, other parents avoid him. Even many of my own friends can’t handle being around him because he is an uncomfortable reminder that they too could have child with something wrong with them. As hard as these things are, they are mere drops in the bucket compared to the acts of charity that he elicits in others. His brothers give up so much but will be incredible men because of him. They are compassionate with him, but fight with him and treat him like the annoying little brother that he is. They too refuse to let Autism define him every time they see him as the little brother who bugs them. Brotherly love is beautiful when you catch these glimpses of it. Especially because all their friends “get” Anthony and show such gentleness and compassion that Anthony calls them his own friends. His therapists show me the beauty of living out a calling from God. It is no mere job for them, they love him and boast of his miraculous turn-around as if it happened to their very own flesh and blood.
And his mom? Where could I even begin? If I were to give advice to all married men, it would be this: God has put you in the foxhole with one certain woman for a good reason. Cling to her and He will show you exactly why He yoked you together. You will be utterly astounded as to how tough the so-called fairer sex can be and how beautiful a mother’s heart is. But you will miss out on this if you run away from the cross. You will forget who the real enemy is and you will forsake the one person who God has given to you for this battle of life. Your cross may not be autism, but it will come, and even the Son of God did not carry His alone. The cross will strengthen your love for each other, but you have to let it. Gentlemen, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. There is no other way. It might seem impossible because it is. Let Him do it in you, and you will find the happiness that comes only from desiring to be a gift to your wife. She has the same desire, do not fear to receive her gift. God will help you take care of it.
All this and more, but I still hate autism. God is indeed good (and that is ultimately the last word).