Autism Spectrum Disorder entered my life 6 years ago.
My youngest son, Kenden Andrew was diagnosed at the age of 2. Immediately, I started learning about his disability. I learned Autism is a complex developmental disorder. Some of the challenges of Autism are seen in communication, social skills, and behavior. All three affect Kenden. I also discovered no one person is the same. The most important thing I can share about Autism, is each person is unique. I like to see it as, God blessed each and every one of them with their own special superpower.
The truth is there is no one definitive cause for Autism. According to Autism Speaks, “Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and non-genetic, or environmental, influences.” While some wonder if complications during pregnancy are a factor, during my pregnancy I had no complications. In fact, I knew the exact date that I would be having Kenden. My doctor scheduled me for a c-section due to my previous one with my first son, Jaylan. Everything went as planned. I stayed in the hospital for a couple of days and then was discharged home.
The first night home alone was extremely hard. I will never forget it! Both boys were fed and bathed for the night. I put Jaylan to bed first and then tended to my new baby boy.
I just knew this night would go smooth but…it didn’t.
For the life of me I couldn’t get my baby to sleep. Nothing seemed to work. He was clean, fed, and sleepy but just refused to sleep. That night I felt defeated. I kept saying to myself something isn’t right, but would immediately tell myself to erase that thought from my mind. I felt it was wrong to compare my two children. My baby experience with my older son was smooth sailing. But things were different with Kenden. Soon, months led to years of no sleep, uncontrollable behaviors, and no verbal communication from Kenden.
At the age of one, Kenden was accepted into the Tennessee Early Intervention Program. This program assisted us with resources to help Kenden. Most importantly, they setup Speech and Occupational Therapy for him. At that time, he had therapy twice a week. Also, they helped with placing him into a Special Education Pre- Kindergarten Program. By the age of three, Kenden was going to school three days a week. I believe early intervention has been one of the reasons for his continued success.
There is Hope in Progress
Kenden is now 8 years old. He has made great strides with his communication, social skills, and behavior. About 3 years ago Kenden finally started saying words. He is still in Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy once a week. Not only has early intervention been a great attribute to his success but I’m so thankful for my church family. I attend Ephesus SDA Church in Clarksville, TN. Sometimes I still struggle with taking Kenden out in the community because I worry about his behavior and the reaction of others. People tend to forget a disability isn’t always visible.
But outside of our home and family, Church has really been the only place I feel comfortable. At Ephesus I don’t have to worry about people’s reaction. Kenden sometimes makes quirky noises and talks loud during service but no one is ever bothered. I love that no one turns their head or gives weird and mean stares at us. Service is never interrupted, and I love it! Kenden is definitely a part of the congregation and they love him. I appreciate their kindness and acceptance of him.
Church Engagement with Autism
It is for this reason that I believe churches are critical for Autism families. One way they can be helpful and inviting to the Autism Community is to talk about Autism. Educate yourself and bring in professionals to train and discuss this disorder with your congregation. Unfortunately, I have found that church tends to brush off or not discuss hard topics. It is oftentimes much easier to bury our heads in the sand and tell others, “I’m praying for you.” But when you are raising a child with a developmental disability the time and energy you have to pour into them is indescribable. Oftentimes, you feel alone and misunderstood. Church should be a place you know you won’t be judged about your child’s meltdowns or have your parenting questioned. It should be a place of peace, understanding, and acceptance.
The time is now to put old traditions and usual clichés aside and be about action.
Being a special needs parent, I am always researching and looking for resources and grants. What has been the most helpful is staying connected to my local Autism foundation and programs, my local government and state websites, and any Autism websites such as Autism Speaks. I have had lots of success with these resources. In addition, each year I apply for the Family Support Program funded by my local state. This program is specifically for individuals with disabilities and their family. The program covers a variety of services. It does not take the place of social security benefits, Medicaid, state wavier programs, or private insurance. But it is another resource that helps the individual with the disability to stay at home with their family and community. Also, I stay connected with Kenden’s teachers and therapist. They have been very helpful assisting me with navigating resources for him.
This statement might come as a shock to you. But Autism has been the answer to my prayers. All of the questions I had about Kenden, were finally answered. Autism was the foundation that helped me and Kenden build our bond. I have a clearer understanding of him and I can now effectively parent him.