No one chooses his or her family members; and for a long time our family circumstances were less than desirable. For years we were stuck believing our “rights” had been violated. By “rights” I mean those often unexpressed expectations that we cling to as Christians; the privileges, comforts, or circumstances that, if we’re left uncomfortable or unhappy, God is supposed to fix—as in RIGHT NOW!
Why do we cling to false beliefs? They can really mess things up.
Since I started walking with Jesus, I’ve learned that even in the midst of earthly ruin and personal loss, He extends the treasure of His presence and guidance. Jesus Himself suffered while He was here—why wouldn’t we be expected to take up our cross in order to follow Him? Tough times bring us to the end of ourselves. (I go kicking and screaming every time.) But at the end of ourselves, we have a choice: we can lose hope or cling to Jesus and reframe our thinking.
When we do the latter, we will find God working in our soul. It’s a game changer . . . I promise.
Beliefs Change Everything
My son is a great example of how our beliefs change everything. The following piece was written by my son, Austin—Jonathan’s older brother and hero for life. I share this to give you hope. Whatever you are fighting, God’s with you and for you. When Austin figured this out, his whole outlook changed. Here’s his story about growing up with a difficult, disabled brother:
To us, it’s normal. It’s normal to be stared at in public; it’s normal to catch glares in restaurants; and it is completely normal to hear whispers that hide in the shadows of Target and Wal-Mart. For our family, surviving with him led to adaptation, adaptation led to understanding, and understanding led to humbling. This is life with Jonathan.
Jonathan is an interesting case, to say the least. He was the baby that screamed, took every ounce of attention from my mom, exhausted us all. Jon seemed like an alien . . . his autism, intellectual disabilities, tics, anxiety, and differences made him a public embarrassment, someone to pity, kind of an oddball. Jonathan defines neurological mayhem for many. I struggled with him for years. But over time, he’s become our family gift, contrary to what many would assume. We’ve been humbled, but we’ve also developed humor, emotional strength, mental endurance, and spiritual stability. My hope is that by my sharing a few things I’ve learned, you’ll learn to reframe your perspective, evaluate your beliefs, and see where God leads.
- You’re Their Hero
My mom would tell me, “You’re Jon’s hero,” all the time, and I would think, “Whatever; I’m just one guy in his life.” To that person, you might be one of the few people invested in their life. To them, the home is their city. The family is their network. Small vacations are their grandest adventures. Understand, this bears some responsibility with the role because they look to you for close to everything: for loving support, for acknowledgment, for a smile.
- Be Understanding of Odd Things
Soft sounds to us are often ear-bursting blasts to them. What a gust of wind feels like to you might feel like hailstones ricocheting against their skin. If we could live one day locked in their minds and undergo the same sensory overload they experience on a daily basis, treatment towards them would take a radical turn. Autism has an interesting way of causing under- or over-reactionary behaviors, and often the movements or sounds generated by autistic individuals are responses to certain environmental stimulations. If we could fully grasp the state of mind they live with, questioning why they only eat specific foods would be answered, expecting them to complete normal tasks in normal time would never be an expectation, and trying to suppress a reactionary behavior through force would never occur.
- Regression and Aggression
Regression means skills once learned or developed are forgotten. Usually the source of mental regression is trauma or something science hasn’t identified yet. Trauma alters brain chemistry, and it causes indescribable stress, illness, genetic mutations, and shortened life span, to name only a few results. When faced with overwhelming stress or abuse, our bodies have built-in mental defense mechanisms that help us survive. Sadly, trauma often trashes memories or learned information as well. Trauma damaged my brother. The disabled are abused and assaulted more than you can imagine. When one forgets a skill or cognitive ability, aggression or impatience reveals our ignorance. By God’s grace, I learned to let Jon show me what he needed.
Stinging rejection is life for my brother. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, families, the church . . . every day we need to accept others as they are. Accept the autism or difference; fighting and forcing them to be like us will always cast a veil over love. For so long, I wanted to believe I could change Jonathan’s impairments through force, external behavioral correction, but I was wrong. I rejected the idea that Jonathan was bound by something uncontrollable, and I acted like he should and could master his mind with enough effort. This is impossible, my friends. We cannot demand or dictate anyone’s behavior; yelling at them to be quiet in public, harshly whispering “Stop!” when they misunderstand, or by shelling out sharp anger over incompetence is about our selfishness, not their needs.
Jon, I love you, you are my hero! —Your knuckleheaded brother, Austin
Let Me Hear from You
Whether you face autism every day or are around others who do, I hope this blog is helpful. We who are relationally intertwined with autism: let’s model love and grace! For personal and applicable advice about your child, sibling, or friend with autism, let’s connect this week. What changes can you make toward others?