Monday, April 2, 2012

The Impact of Autism

Autism, a complex, neuro-developmental disorder of the brain that affects social interaction, communication, and causes repetitive/restrictive behavior/interests is becoming more and more prevalent in today's world yet remains without a cure or known cause.  Now as many as 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with Autism.  In fact, according to a Center for Disease Control study, a new case of Autism is being diagnosed every 20 minutes in the United States.  The facts alone are staggering!  Awareness needs to be spread!  April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day where the world lights it up Blue for Autism Awareness.  With increased awareness comes greater understanding and more acceptance of those individuals affected by Autism.  The more people know, the more attention is given for funding of studies to discover a cure and a cause.

Awareness is so important.  Our family works hard to raise awareness each year because Autism is very personal to us since our 7 year old son Joshua was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, high-functioning Autism, when he was 4 years old.  Along with raising awareness of Autism in general, we find it is important to raise awareness of the personal aspects of Autism.  Not many people take time to think about the ways Autism truly impacts a family or community.  In fact, many people never move beyond the statistics.

As Christians, we recognize that Autism is a disability as a result of the fall.  It is a normal result of a world that has become abnormal as a direct result of sin.  Autism does not change the fact that Josh was created in God's image.  God did not make a mistake when he formed Joshua in my womb.  God made Joshua just the way he is for his good and for God's glory.  God gave Joshua to us as parents to mold and shape for God's glory and service in His Kingdom.  We teach him the Bible and the things of the Lord just like we do our 5 year old son David.  We have the same expectations for the outcomes in our son's lives.  Our methods may need to be altered from time to time to fit the various needs of Joshua, but in all actuality, isn't that like parenting any set of different children?

There have been times where God has used Josh's lack of social awareness to further the Gospel.  Because Josh is not afraid to say anything to anybody, there have been times where he has boldly proclaimed the Gospel to neighbors where we have been more timid in how we bring up the topic.  By his going straight to the point, he opened the door wide open for us to step right in and have wonderful discussions about our faith.  What a blessing!

However, raising a child with Autism definitely has its struggles.  The past 5 months have been the most difficult months we have faced yet, and they followed the best several months we had experienced with Joshua.  He had been doing so well with the different therapies where he was learning different social skill and self awareness tools.  In fact, he was doing so well, that his wrap around services he had been receiving for the past 2 years (provided him with a mobile therapist who came to the house and school to help him with social skills and a behavior therapist who helped us in the home) were discontinued because he had completed all of his treatment goals.  The problem was that I had become suddenly sick with severe migraines, and my doctors found a lesion on my brain.  With no answers and no relief to my pain, I was not able to answer Josh's questions of when I was going to get better and what was wrong with me.  This caused a great deal of anxiety for him since with Autism, one needs to always feel in control and know what to expect (the unknown is very scary).  This led to Josh's undoing despite our attempt to get him help.

Navigating the difficult road of mental health dealing with inpatient hospitalization, outpatient therapy, family based services, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, and coordinating care with the school therapy team, pediatrician, and developmental pediatrician is enough to warrant another full-time personal assistant job.  I have come to feel as if the phone is a permanent attachment to my head.  Feeling overwhelmed and completely inadequate is becoming a normal feeling.

When Joshua comes home from school each day, there's the constant attempts to keep him calm and prevent him from getting overwhelmed.  Tim and I are constantly doubting our judgment and ability yet having to make fast, pressured decisions, trusting God's wisdom to guide us.  We are struggling to balance the time and energy we are fueling into Josh with the time we need to give to David who is so kind and understanding through all of this.  We pray that God will protect David's sensitive heart and prevent him from becoming bitter.  We fall into bed each night absolutely exhausted by the emotional and physical strain of helping Josh cope with life right now.

It's an overwhelming feeling parenting a child with Autism, especially when things aren't going well.  It's lonely many times.  Too many people who don't understand are quick to judge.  Going to a store can be a very overwhelming experience for an autistic child because it is sensory overload due to the lights, sounds, images, and people.  A melt-down can easily happen, and if it does, too many people are quick to blame the parents for bad parenting or the child for being spoiled.  No one stops to think that the child is in complete sensory overload and can no longer cope with his environment.  Not many people understand how difficult is can be sometimes to parent a child with Autism, so many times, help is not offered.  Getting a break is hard to come by many times.

However, being a Christian parent of a child with Autism, you look into the face of your child and see the image of God and know that it's a blessing to raise your child for God's glory.  It's a comfort to know that you can ask for God's wisdom, and know He promises to give it generously (James 1:5).  You have constant access to God's grace which is always sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  We do not need to worry about anything, but we can go to God in prayer and be filled with His peace (Philippians 4:6-7).  We can trust in God for all things (Proverbs 3:5-6).  

Autism brings struggles and blessings.  There are joys and sorrows.  In the end, we are thankful to God for our precious gift - Joshua Caleb Russell!  Our lives will be forever changed because of the blessing of having him in our lives.

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