By Brenda Tan
Recently I was asked the pertinent question: “How do you reconcile the idea of a good God with the immense challenges parenting a child with autism?” The first thing that came to my mind: It is precisely because of the many challenges I face that I’m so thankful God is good.
What challenges do I face? Let me first explain what autism is. The autistic brain functions in such a way as to result in poor communication and social skills, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behavior. These traits are evident by the time the child turns three.
My son, Calder, was diagnosed with moderate autism when he was three. He couldn’t communicate in words. He couldn’t even understand our words. Even at six, he couldn’t tell what was socially appropriate. He took French Fries from another table and reached for drinks not belonging to him. He insistently jabbed at lift buttons and bounced in excitement when he entered a lift. He couldn’t stand still in a queue and would step on feet in front and behind him. He turned faces with his humming and hand flapping. The hand dryer frightened him, noisy environment overwhelmed him, warm weather irritated him. He became anxious when there were changes to routines. In fact, he was so easily agitated that I used to wonder in the mornings: what time of the day he would have his meltdown.
Parenting such a child was not easy. How do you explain changes to a child who does not understand your language? What do you do when your child cries in a heartrending manner yet cannot tell you what is bothering him? How do you calm a child who behaves like he cannot stand his own skin? How do you keep calm when he’s tearing down the house? How do you carry on when you lose your calm and feel like you’re the worst Mom in the whole world?
That is why I’m so thankful that God is good. When I’m helpless, I call out to him for rescue. When I’m lost, I ask him to show me what to do. When I fail, I lay my errors before him and seek the strength to carry on.
It occurred to me, one day, that the fruit of the Spirit does not include intelligence, or even wisdom. I saw then, that God has given me Calder not to test how capable I am in fixing him. The test, instead, is: Can you remain loving even when he does not improve? For all the commandments hinge on the word “Love” (Galatians 5:17).
But God is good. While I persist in loving Calder, he also effects improvements. At seven, Calder called me Mommy for the first time. He learned to brush his teeth. He began to read and write. His meltdowns ceased. Now he basks in simple delights like taking transport or watching videos of himself. At 12 this year, he has finally learnt to bathe himself. Calder is no longer the tornado or the landmine in our house. He is our treasure, a most precious gift from God.
2 April is World Autism Awareness Day. I’m writing to help you understand what autism is, and what it means to parent a child with autism. Not all autistic children present the same challenges, but the journey is difficult for all parents. You can help by praying for us. Find out more about the condition so you can offer assistance when the situation calls for it. Smilingly welcome our child in your midst. Let your child befriend our child and our child’s sibling. Speak to us words of encouragement and not criticism.
May the Lord make your love grow and overflow to become a rich blessing to families in need, for his good purposes and to his glory.
Brenda Tan is the writer of “Come into My World: 31 Stories of Autism in Singapore” (www.come-into-our-world.com). She has two children: 12-year-old Calder and 9-year-old Ethel. Brenda worships in Yio Chu Kang Gospel Hall.
有一天我发现，圣灵所结的果子，不包括聪明甚至是智慧。在那个时刻，我醒悟到，上帝所要求我的不是懂得如何“修理”儿子的智慧，而是一颗爱孩子的心 - 就算儿子没进展，我是否能够爱到底？因为全律法都包在“爱”这个字之内了。（加拉太书5:14)。
本文作者是杨厝港福音堂的会友：Brenda Tan 心微。她有两个孩子：12岁的自闭症儿子甘泉和9岁的女儿甘恬，曾出版《进入我的世界：31个新加坡的自闭症故事》一书（www.come-into-our-world.com）。
(This article was published in a few churches' bulletins. Feel free to share it.)