Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ministering to those with Special Needs - Part 1

<See all posts in this Special Needs 4-Part Series>

Never in a million years did I ever dream of raising a special needs child of my own, but God called me to the amazing task and gave me the gift of Joshua Caleb.  My eyes have been truly open to the challenges parents and caregivers face taking care of a child with special needs.  With as difficult as it has been for me so far, I also recognize that I have it so much easier than most parents who have a special needs child because my child is considered "high-functioning."
On Joshua's 1st Christmas, we put him in one of his gift bags because he was our gift from God for that year.  Little did we know how special of a gift God had really given us.  We can't imagine life without him!

Ever since Joshua was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder, I looked at this neurodevelopmental disorder as a challenge, a difficulty, a thwart to my plans for the mission field.  This diagnosis had a negative connotation in my mind.  However, God opened my eyes to the truth back in November 2010 during the MTW Missions conference when I was talking with a pastor who had led the seminar "Lord, Here am I, But What About my Children" I had just attended.   I was asking him about our specific family issues related to serving as missionaries.  When I told him about Josh's autism diagnosis, he laughed, catching me off-guard.  He then asked if we'd ever be interested in serving as missionaries in Bulgaria (the 3rd person to ask us that very question).  I asked why, and he responded, "Because Bulgaria has the highest incidence of autism in all of Eastern Europe, and they are behind the times in the therapies and services that the U.S. has.  Don't you think that when God called you to be a missionary when you were 11 that God called you knowing He was going to give you an autistic child?  Could it be that God is going to use you in a way He wouldn't have been able to use you otherwise because you have a child with autism?"

Those two questions revolutionized the way I thought.  In that moment, I was convicted of my lack of faith regarding the sovereignty of God (having an autistic child didn't catch God off-guard or thwart His plans) and my negative perspective of Josh's diagnosis.  Asperger's Syndrome is not a negative thing, but it's a GIFT!  God gave me the gift called Joshua for my good and His glory!  It's an honor and privilege to raise this loving child with his difficulties and his joys!  It's also very humbling that God would consider me worthy for the task not to mention call me to minister because of this gift He has blessed me with.

The more I understand and experience first-hand the world of special needs, the more my heart is challenged about ways to minister to this special group and those who love them and care for them.  Caring for these special people is a joy, but is not always easy.  Oftentimes, I find myself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally exhausted, especially when Josh has been really struggling with anxiety issues related to change or the unknown which often leads to lack of focusing and staying on task and behavior issues.  I have gained a lot of insight about the needs of the caregivers of special needs people and now understand better how I can minister to them because of my own experience.  I also know the pains of feeling different and struggling to fit into a world that is very unforgiving because I've witnessed it through my own son's eyes.  These special people need to know the love of God.  God made them special because they are each equippede with special blessings that God has given to them for their good and His glory.  We need to surround them with God's love and enable them to glorify God through their lives and abilities.  I intentionally say "abilities" because what most call "disabilities" (giving a negative connotation) are actually "abilities" in other ways - a blind person can be gifted with acute hearing, a person who can't walk might be gifted with his hands; a child who is socially awkward as in Asperger's can be gifted with an amazing mind, etc).

Check back soon for a follow-up post of ways to minister to special needs individuals as well as their caregivers as I continue to explore ways God has called me to minister to these wonderful people.
One of Joshua's highlights of his week is his Special Olympics Swim Team practice.  He loves swimming, and it is wonderful therapy for him!

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