Fighting Autism with Lame Theology

Jack sitting in the barnI just finished reading a great post entitled “THE AUTISM DADDY RELIGOUS MANIFESTO.” The anonymous blogger has a nine year old boy with severe autism–worse than my son’s, whose is formidable enough–and was put off by trite religious platitudes that were supposed to make things better. He is not a believer, but he is honest, and I want to stand next to him in addressing this “comforting” statement to autism parents:

“God never gives you anything you can’t handle.”

First of all… really? Are we still using that line? I had hoped it would go out of fashion with TestaMints. Because nobody in the history of pain has ever been healed by religious denial. Ever.

“But it’s in the Bible!”

No it’s not. I Corinthians 10:13 is talking about sin and temptation. Paul assures us we will never be tempted to sin beyond what we can bear. In other words, we can always say no to evil. He is not talking about handling hardship.

Millions of people every day, in every place, experience life that they cannot handle. That’s why they drink, or stay in bed all day. That’s why they pump chemicals into they bloodstream. Their reality is too much for them to handle.

Christians who experience pain might have an easier time of it, only because we have Hope. But let’s be honest: we get knocked over, too. Rather than assuring ourselves that we can handle it, we ought to be all the more aware of our own inability to walk alone. We need Christ. We need the church.

The most maddening part of the statement, to me, is the theological presumption behind it. It assumes that God himself “gave” us these afflictions. That he somehow wanted a whack job to shoot up a theater, or a temple. That he planned for children in Ethiopia to run out of food.

For my blogger friend, it means that even though God created human beings for the purpose of relationship, He intentionally fashioned little Kyle to live without it. Like my son, Kyle cannot talk. He cannot tell them “I love you,” or “the sound of the ceiling fan is killing my head,” or even “I would prefer a corndog WITH gluten, thank you very much.”

As the parent of a boy with severe, non-verbal autism, I dream of knowing my son’s thoughts, and seeing him learn to express himself and relate to others. But if the statement holds true, I might never get there because God wanted him to live without those relational faculties.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Never have.

I have my own ideas about how God’s sovereignty and hardship both exist, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice it to say we live in a screwed up world where many, many things are not as they should be. Not yet.

I love my son. He is precious and beautiful. But there are some days when he is too much for my wife and I to handle. So we admit our frailty, lift him toward heaven and ask for more strength.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you think of the idea that God actually doesn’t intend for suffering? Does it make you feel relieved or insecure? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!


Here’s another post about my dealing with my son’s autism: A Letter to My Autistic Son on his Seventh Birthday.


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UPDATE (8/7: I want to clarify something that has popped up in the comments. I do not mean to accuse people of being cruel with this statement. I believe most folks are very well meaning, and would love to be able to offer an answer. I just believe the “answer” implied in the above statement is weak, at best. More to the point: sometimes it is counter-productive to try to answer questions when a person is in pain. There is a time to ask “why,” but if someone is struggling, sometimes it’s better to avoid that question. After all, we really don’t know why. We see in part… Rest assured, a heartfelt, genuine “I’m here for you. Please call me and tell me how I can help” will cover a multitude of cliches.

51 replies
  1. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    My autistic brother was born in 1963 when only the medical community knew the word, “autism.” We heard a lot of theories but success stories were rare or nonexistent. Tim was two years younger than I so we grew up together. Except that while I grew up, he grew in. Our family heard the trite “comfort” phrase you mention in this article.

    Let me assure you that the only reason people say things like that is to comfort themselves. While they shiver with horror at the prospect of God granting them a child like we had, they are sure they really could NOT handle one. The phrase, “God will only give you what you can handle” is a statement to grant themselves immunity, with God’s name to give it authority.

    A lot of water under the bridge. I knew as only a sister who watched him slowly grow in as I grew up, the hell that was behind those eyes every day, all day, all night, year after year. For all the suffering our family went through, Tim went through so much more than the rest of us put together. Tim passed away at 41 years of age from a massive heart attack. The heart attack was a complete surprise as he was physically healthy and he had no symptoms that could alert us.

    When I get to heaven and meet Tim, I will ask him about his earthly life. There is very little I know about his perspectives, but one thing I do know. Tim will NOT say, “I could handle it.”

  2. jayhague
    jayhague says:

    Crystal, I’m so sorry to hear this.

    I have four “normal” kids–two older than Jackson and two younger–and I am thankful for all the research that is being done today. It is helping them understand their brother. I can’t imagine how confusing it must have been for you growing up before this.

    You’re so right, Crystal. the trite answers do not help anyone except for maybe the speaker. But one idea has struck me powerfully as of late: My son WILL be whole some day. It might not be through medicine or therapy. It might not be through a miracle, and I believe in miracles. It might be after this life ends. It was Jesus who said: “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” You mentioned heaven: I believe heaven’s “FIRST” and most revered saints are those who suffered and endured like my son and your brother–totally free of ailments and confusion. Whole. The way God intended them to be in the first place.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I really appreciate your candor.

  3. Anne Nunn PhotographyAnne
    Anne Nunn PhotographyAnne says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. I know it helps other Christians to read and hear that we all struggle with these perspectives and answers to the “why.” I think we all want that answer, but really the answer given isn’t a “fair” one, and so we keep searching, or offering those answers to the people we see suffering.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Anne, I agree with the pastor who said “sometimes we need to stop asking why, and ask ‘how.’ How can we jump in and help in this situation? How can we make it better?” I think of all the love that is pouring out in the Aurora community right now. It’s wonderful, and so appropriate.

  4. Mickey
    Mickey says:

    Good word, I don’t believe that GOD “gives” us stuff to see how well we juggle. I do think things we do juggle can be refining. Everything we deal with can be used for HIS glory, but sometimes we would perfer to whine than think of it as part of the day. Personally, since this is the day that the Lord has made, I will be glad and rejoice in it! (With gluten, thank you very much! :))

    • MelanieDawn
      MelanieDawn says:

      Mulling this over as my tears fall, because I too have a daughter with disabilities that make it very difficult sometimes to understand and have relationship with her.
      I have always believed that bad things happen because of free will. We, as humans make our own choices. They can and do hurt others. I believe we can turn a bad thing into a good ending by helping others work through similar situations.
      I think of Job. God did allow him to have hardship. He gave the enemy space to hurt Job and his family. What does that mean in light of free will? I don’t know. What kind of protection was God giving Job before he let satan destroy his life? I have never studied this in depth so I don’t know. I do know there have been times I have felt so destitute trying to parent and love my daughter that I could not fathom how God could possibly not be giving me more than I can handle. Left with emotions so strong I thought I would break.
      I dont know how Jobs experience relates to our lives. Was he a special case? I mean, humans can be so awful that God realyy doesn’t need to be even if he could.
      In the past I have even said to myself, God does not give us more than we can handle. Only to ask myself,”then why do I want to die?”
      But I say it anyway to try and feel strong. I don’t say it to others. It seems to minimize emotions that we have. As if you looked at someone in distress and simply said, “quit feeling that way, it’s wrong of you.”
      My daughter is the way she is because her birth mom did a lot of drugs when she was pregnant. Did God want her to? I don’t think so. He knew she would, he knew she would wreck my babies brain. He knew the struggles it would cause. He that somehow, we would be able to love her no matter what, forgiving her no matter what. Accepting the situation and persevering to the end.

      • jayhague
        jayhague says:

        It’s all so very complicated, MelanieDawn. Man’s will is certainly part of it, but not all of it. I have to believe the invisible spiritual realm plays a massive role as well. But we will never know exactly how everything works until we reach the Celestial City.

        I just refuse to pin it all on God’s will. So for the purposes of this discussion, it is enough for me to say this: “I don’t get it. I don’t know how this works. But I don’t believe Jesus wants my son to suffer. I can’t explain it all, but I believe that He is good, and that “good” to Him doesn’t have some other secret definition. It means He is full of love and compassion, and wants the best for every one of us.”

  5. Melody
    Melody says:

    On behalf of all we who have spoken trite phrases to whatever end, please accept my apology. I think there is some truth to the idea that it is an attempt to make ourselves feel better, to try and answer the questions. These days I am more aware than ever before of how good God is and that He could never, ever give anything less than pure love and goodness to us. So, as I await possible answers to the questions I and others have as to the suffering and tragidies of this life, I cling daily to this One who is the Answer, and Hope, and everything I need. You are right, Jason, we need Christ and we need each other to live this life. And He is there and we are trying to be there for each other. Great Grace.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Melody,

      Such a sweet thing to say. I should clarify something: I have not been offended by this phrase. Others have, including the blogger I mentioned. I have never believed it, but it hasn’t offended me. And I don’t believe that everybody says things like this for their own benefit, although some probably do. Most Christians, I believe, are well meaning. They think “wow! that must be super hard. Um… Well…” and they reach for something to say.

      That said, I really appreciate the sentiment. Thank you!

      • Amanda
        Amanda says:

        Jason, you do a great job of writing and responding with patience and grace. I have disabilities too (different story, but I can relate to certain aspects.) Thank you for this article.

  6. Sarah Starr Vincent
    Sarah Starr Vincent says:

    Man, I would really like to read your thoughts on suffering and the sovereignty of God! Re the comments (trite or foolish) : I, like you, believe most, if not all, are made to try to help. Not thinking…not understanding, wanting to say the right thing or the helpful thing…I am a great believer in “less is more” when it comes to words in times of suffering, or lifetimes of suffering. I also believe, that each person’s suffering is uniquely theirs. Tho’ I have suffered some things, I have not suffered YOUR thing. You have not suffered mine. But I so much love you and Sara and your children. I have a question: I hope it’s not trite: I agree that God made us for relationship. I “get” on some level, however superficial, that Jackson and the blogger’s child cannot relate, talk and a host of other terribly important things…but Is it possible that God can still relate to THEM? and they to God? in ways we, you, do not see? Loving you all and always wishing I could rub balm on every hurting thing,..( unless some person did something that makes me mad and I think they need to hurt for a little while)
    Sarah

    • Dixie Redmond
      Dixie Redmond says:

      I have a grown son with autism and I believe he has abilities I do not have. And one of those abinlities may be to see and understand things that confund the typical person.

  7. jayhague
    jayhague says:

    Sarah, you always make me laugh. To answer your question, YES! I do believe the Holy Spirit has unique ways of meeting all of us, including the ones who cannot relate “normally.” Even if Jackson’s condition never improves, I would fully expect him to recognize the person of Jesus when he gets to heaven, and to have deeper, more intimate conversations with Him than I would. I alluded to the reason for that in a different comment, but it is something Larry A once said about “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”: Wouldn’t those with developmental disabilities top the list? Those who, in the eyes of the world, might not bring much to the table? Those who, throughout history, have been thrown away? I imagine they will be great princes in heaven.

    Thank you for the words of comfort. You will be happy to know that we are doing very well. We have some rough days, but we love our family and God is good.

  8. WonderfullyFi
    WonderfullyFi says:

    Love love LOVE this post. I have two boys with aspergers and though they are high functioning, they still present many challenges. I have taken umbrage to that same phrase many many times over the years too. I also tell people that it is not anywhere in the bible (but apparently Mother Theresa said it once?)
    I’m not entirely sure.
    You’re spot on correct, because if God would never give us more than we can handle: there would be no need to turn to God. It doesn’t make sense.
    I too read Autism Daddy’s original post a while back (and I think I commented) and reacted in much the same way that you have.
    When well meaning people say that to me: it’s like they are saying: “Thank God it’s you that has that child and not me”.,,,,
    Sigh. I just pray for them now instead of becoming enraged 🙂

  9. Jessica Poirier
    Jessica Poirier says:

    As a proud mom of an autistic daughter I want to thank you for this. I remember the blog you reference here, and I remember commenting that I, like you, don’t believe that autism is “God given.” I don’t believe that God WANTED my daughter to struggle this way. I don’t believe that he wanted her to live behind the wall that autism creates between herself and those that love her most. What I DO believe is that God has given me strength, persistence and the ability to help my daughter in ways I never knew possible. My daughter who just a few months ago could not pass a developmental assessment has recently amazed all of us by not only acing most of it, but going beyond it in others. She is not without challenges- she too can’t talk- but God is helping me to teach her other ways to communicate. This is not what I envisioned being a mom would be like…this is not the life I would have chosen for my angel, but I know that without God, without my church family, with HOPE, FAITH and LOVE we wouldn’t have come as far as we have. Yes, God does give us more than we can handle sometimes…and sometimes things happen that I believe not even He “planned.” But as a Christian I know that God IS in EVERYTHING- even if it’s just the energy to take the next breath. God Bless you- and thank you. My family and I will be praying for you and your family.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Jessica. I’m glad this hit home for you. This isn’t what any of us envisioned, is it… And yet, we can endure and win in the end by loving our kids without reservation, and finding the keys to get to know who they really are.

      Blessings!

  10. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    As the mom of a son w/autism, I follow the blog you mentioned. He posted your note on his page, which is how I landed here. Thank you so much for saying what my heart couldn’t put into words. I know in the depths of my soul that God is good all of the time… but there are days that are really not very good – and I’m not interested in candy coating it. No energy for that.

    As my son turns 11, my 18 month old granddaughter is now looking like she may be on the spectrum also. My daughter is still in the shock phase… but she will be strong. The good news is that she was 16 when her little brother was diagnosed, so she knows the life. The bad news is that she was 16 when her little brother was diagnosed, so she knows the life. Thanks so much for your words… they will help the healing in her (and my) heart.

  11. Liz Ditz (@lizditz)
    Liz Ditz (@lizditz) says:

    Hi there, I’m one of the editors of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. We’ve posted some entries about religion & autism, mostly about finding a welcoming community.

    I posted a link to this blog post at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism FB page, link to post. Often folk comment on the FB page instead of coming back to the original post.

  12. Ivy
    Ivy says:

    Finally- someone who is a believer but also honest. Truly, sometimes the holier than thou stance gets kind of tiresome.

    I have two precious boys with autism, one has more challenges than the other, but nonetheless, autism challenges and surprises us 24/7. I know people mean well when they throw the ‘God gives you what you can handle’ cr– (sorry), stuff, but- while it’s only a reflection of what makes them uncomfortable, it’s not exactly a comfort to us.

    For me, it’s a clear judgement that our lives seems to be pretty bad, when in fact, given our circumstances (we are ‘sandwich generation’: caring for special needs kids, and aging parents with chronic illnesses), we are not living a life of tragedy. Far from it.

    I believe in God, but don’t go to church. One of my boys is, well, too disruptive for church. We tried without success, and I didn’t want to expose my boy to rejection in the very place he should be unconditionally accepted.

    And well, we either go to church as a family, or we don’t go to church. It makes me sad, sometimes it makes me angry. My boys seem to ‘get’ spiritual things better than most people I know, autism and all. But the way they experience God is, well, unconventional. I feel blessed to see this in them.

    Sadly, stemming from conversations with other parents, there are many of us on the same boat.
    And it is not uncommon for some to just give up on believing (or caring about) God altogether.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Ivy, you are free to say “crap” on this blog any time. CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP! See? (I recently preached a sermon where Paul the apostle dropped the word “Scubala” which is probably a step up from “crap” even…)

      I completely understand where you are coming from. On the church front, it’s very difficult to go anywhere as a family under these conditions. I know! I am going to write about this soon, because my church has taken a pretty cool step to welcome autism families, and I think a lot of churches could easily do the same thing. More on that later this week, maybe…

      All I can say to you, Ivy, is DON’T give up on God. We really do live in a screwed up world, and there is a bunch of stuff that is wrong here. That’s why Jesus came. To rescue a race of people who have been cursed (and cursed ourselves!). His kingdom will one day restore everything as it should be. In the mean time, consider this: Christ feels every ounce of pain and frustration and anger and exhaustion… all of the things you feel, He does, too. He sees you, and He has not forgotten you.

      Prayers going out for you and your family!

    • Michele Grannis
      Michele Grannis says:

      I, too, have a son with autism. Kenny is on the low end of the spectrum, but does say some words, like “please”, “thank you”. Anyway, we too tried to take him to church, but more often than not, we’d end up leaving early, because he just didn’t want to sit long enough. We are not able to go as a family; one of us stays home with him. We were told by the church that we belonged to for 13 years that our son was a “safety risk”, and that we needed to bring him in through the back door, so it wouldn’t disrupt anyone. The pastor and another woman came to our house with a letter that she read to us. We quit going to that church because of it. It still hurts. That was about a year and a half ago. We thought that we were welcome there, but then they read that letter and it was like a slap in the face.
      But, to get to what this blog is about. I think too that people say it as a comfort for themselves, but also because they don’t know what else to say. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and autism is a very hard thing to understand, especially when the child looks “normal”. (Whatever “normal” is) I don’t know anyone who is completely “normal.”
      I know that God doesn’t “give” us more than we can handle; He gave us these very special children to be a blessing to us. Kenny can sometimes be more than we can handle, but those times are way outnumbered by the other things he does to bring us joy. He gives and receives hugs. He loves to help put supper together; he knows what to get out and how much. He remembers what ingredients go in each recipe. He is always surprising us with the things he comes up with. I praise God for my son and would not trade a single day, good or bad.

      • jayhague
        jayhague says:

        Good stuff, Michelle! I feel the same way about Jackson. He really is a joy. Sometimes it’s really tough, you know, but he is so happy. It’s impossible not to smile when he laughs.

        About your church… wow. I don’t even know what to say. That is seriously messed up in my book. I had an incident years ago when an autistic boy was running around in a church carnival, a bit out of control, and someone came to me demanding that I do something to stop him. The poor boys mom was single and totally on her own. She felt helpless. But instead of jumping in and helping, he thought the thing to do was to complain. Unreal.

        I’m sorry to say our churches are baffled by the autism epidemic. We have to start figuring out to respond, and how best to love these wonderful kids. I’ve mentioned this a few times in the comments already, but keep an eye out soon, because we’ve started some very simple, common sense, but powerful initiatives at our church to deal with this issue, and it’s going really well.

  13. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    Hi Jason,
    I really appreciate and admire how you have wrestled with these questions. I am also a pastor and a mother of a 4-year old with autism. He is non-verbal and I guess you could call his autism “moderate to severe.”
    While I agree with what you say about the nature of suffering, I don’t think the same things holds true for autism. I am beginning to think that my son’s autism is God-given. It is part of who he is. I cannot separate the autism from the boy he is. It is not a disease or aberration. There is nothing wrong with him. He is, what Paul Collins (an author and fellow autism parent), calls “not-even wrong” because autism defies these sorts of categories. My son is beautiful and he sees the world in a way that I cannot even imagine. He brings me great joy, but also profound frustration and confusion. Life is not easy. But he is teaching me so much about what true, genuine, pure love is. Loving and being loved by my boy is like no other human relationship that I have. It is in no way based on what he does for me or how he makes me feel or any other sort of transaction. I love him because he is. And the gift of that is, besides the gift of pure love itself, is that it is a glimpse of the love God has for me, you, and all of creation.
    Thank you for writing this essay. I look forward to following your blog! Blessings on you, your son, and your entire family.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Hi Lindsay, and welcome! Thank you for the thoughtful response. My son is teaching me a lot, too. And you’re right about love: it ought to never come with strings attached. I, too, love my boy because he “is,” not because he can or cannot do something. (I wrote a piece about that last month.)

      I know that theology can obviously come into play on a topic like this, and I didn’t want to go too far down that road lest I irritate my more reformed friends :). But this is a little different, isn’t it… I appreciate your opposing point of view, and I applaud you for your faith and your tremendous attitude. For my part, it’s more than just examining my son’s quirks. When I look at the exploding autism statistics (it’s up to 1 in 88 in Oregon now), it seems clear that something is radically changing. Our kids did not used to deal with this, at least not at this level. Something really is wrong. I expect that new research will eventually shed light on the issue of categories, causes, cures, etc. So even though I don’t understand this “disorder,” neither do I take it as God’s intended design, and I continue to pray for my son’s healing.

      I sincerely appreciate your honesty, and your willingness to disagree so graciously. Blessings on you and your ministry!

  14. Irene
    Irene says:

    I’m not intending to rewrite the Bible here, but I have always believed that a more accurate interpretation of this thought is, or should be, “God never gives us more than we can handle….WITH HIS HELP!” The constant theme throughout the Bible is reliance upon God, leaning on Him in times of need, and trusting that He loves you and will be there for you. I have personally tested this many times, for many reasons, and God has never let me down. Yes, I have failed often and not “handled something well, but God was there to pick up the slack, and I’m still here!!!

  15. Frances
    Frances says:

    I am a Christian and I am the parent of a child with autism. I absolutely hate it when people say that God only gives what we can handle, not only because it is blatantly false, but also because the subconscious intention of that statement is to avoid involvement with the affected family. If God only gives a person what he or she can handle, then that person doesn’t need the loving support of the community at large. The truth is that we all need each other (i.e. the church), which is revealed in the Bible and the tradition of the church. In my child’s case, I often reflect upon John 9:2-3, when Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      One this is for sure: we all need the loving support of a community. Not just us autism parents. All of us. We need one another. Imagine how cool it would be if we stopped asking “why” all the time and instead asked “how.” As in, “how can we help?” Because the why question… I don’t know if we’ll ever really be able to answer that in this life.

  16. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I wAITED FOR MY GRANDSONFOR SO LONG, 26 YEARS, I WAS SO IN LOVE WITH HIM. HE WAS BEAUTIFUL, THEN AT 12 MO . HE STARTED TO SLIP AWAY, I CANT STAND THE PAIN I FEEL SO BAD,I HAVE PRAYED FOR GOD TO HEAL HIM FOR 10 YEARS NOW. I CRY SO MUCH . IT HURTS SO BAD. HE WAS GIVEN 11 SHOTS AT ONCE, HES NAVER BEEN THE SAME. WHY , WHY, WHY. YOU KNOW , NO ONE GIVES A HOOT , ONLY ME.HISMOM THINKS HE WILL GROW OUT OF IT SHE SAYS HES FINE, HIS DAD HAS REJECTED HIM. HE HAS NOBODY BUT ME. HES NAVER HAD ANY HELP, 10 YEARS OLD AND STILL IN DIAPERS. MY HEART IS BROKEN. I DONT THINK GOD IS LISTENING ANYMORE.

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      I’m so sorry, Barbara. I wish I had an answer for why God heals people sometimes but not other times. I don’t get it either. But I know He feels what you feel, and He is for you and your grandson. Prayers going out for you all tonight.

  17. penyelidik
    penyelidik says:

    Hi Jason,

    I’m a Moslem, and the Quran also has a similar statement such as: Allah (God) does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.

    I have a 4 yo son with autism, non verbal. At the beginning, I always wonder whether the sins that I’ve done have caused the autism. But its not fair right? If i have done the sins, the punishment should come to me, and not to my son.

    But in the end, we cannot choose what happened to us. All fortune or misfortune, sometimes all of them just came without a reason. We’ll just have to accept it and move forward.

    In the end, no one knows what the limits are for what we can handle…I just don’t want to loose hope, especially as the parent. So for me, the phrase is still useful – especially in hard times.

    Cheers
    Akhmad

    • jayhague
      jayhague says:

      Hi Akhmad, thank you for the thoughtful comment!

      There is a passage in the Bible where people saw a blind man and asked Jesus “who sinned? This man or his parents?” Jesus’s answer was “neither,” and then he healed the man. For what it’s worth, I do not believe your son has autism because of anything you did. I think you said it pretty well above: sometimes hard times appears to come “without a reason.”

      Blessings on you, my friend.

  18. dixieredmond
    dixieredmond says:

    You are getting some good responses here. I am a dechurched by my own choice. We left the church we had sttended for 16 years for a variety of reasons (some very good ones). We had great difficulty finding another church because of needing to take turns in the service. It seemed like way more work than it was worth. We were very involved at our past church.

    At times people used to say, “God knew you were JUST THE RIGHT PARENTS to give your son to.”. And my thoughts were, “Maybe my son disagrees.”. And also,

    “Does that mean the autistic child placed with abusive parents was given just the right parents?”

    No, I can’t believe in that. Because that gives an out from humans taking responsibility. It’s also a way of the church giving itself a pass from helping people with disabilities and families with disabilities. My son was able to attend Sunday School until he was 5 because of the care of a wonderful woman. But that fell apart at age 6. My son, now a grown young man, recently asked me, “Did I get kicked out of SS because I misbehaved?”. Over a decade and a half later he is still feeling that. The people who dealt with 6 year olds were kind people who did not have the training to work with people with disabilities.

    Always assume that the children with autism can hear you and remember your words. Because you may be talking about those words 15 years later.

  19. Ivy
    Ivy says:

    I didn’t mean we have stopped believing in God- He is our lifeline! We just have resigned ourselves to the fact that the church (at least the churches around us), like you said, don’t know how to address the needs of families with special circumstances.

    I have a few friends who are pastors, and are raising one or more children with autism. One couple actually was asked to leave because their child was too disruptive during service. After sharing the anecdote, my friend said to me: ‘now that God has given us the opportunity to start our own church, I want to make it as inclusive as possible… but I’m praying for wisdom to make it happen- I know we have experienced this first hand, but that doesn’t make us experts. Every family is different, their challenges are unique. How do we make a strong support system?”. I think she already has the first victory by having the right mindset- not wanting to turn people away, wanting to know how to better serve families with special circumstances is a great first step. Too bad my pastor friends live a few states away from us. That would be the kind of church that I would like to go, and help out!

  20. Mina
    Mina says:

    I’m a mom of two autism spectrum boys – both pretty high-functioning, but with their own unique challenges as well. I also have two “typical” kids, an older son and a younger daughter. The boys are sandwiched in the middle. My older son is an eloper, which is quite a challenge, as he’s 8 years old and 100 pounds now – almost too big for me to handle if he decides he needs to see something RIGHT NOW. That something could be across the road or parking lot, across the neighbors’ yards, or wherever he thinks he needs to be. My younger son, who’s 7, has more behaviors you’d expect from a spectrum kid – toe walking, hand flapping, etc. Meltdowns if things don’t go the right way. Both boys are verbal, but had speech delays and have comprehension issues, although both are in the age-appropriate grade in school with full-time 1-on-1s.

    That said, I also have heard all the platitudes from people. I actually was told by a Christian counselor that “You must have asked God for this challenge before you were born – you are so much stronger than I am, I could not have handled it.”. Um, so now instead of just saying I got them because I’m strong, you are saying I ASKED FOR THIS?!?!?! I asked to never be able to take all 4 of my children anywhere, to never take vacations because I don’t know if my older son will escape when we aren’t on guard, to never be able to visit family (who live out of state), to never even visit friends in the area because their house isn’t autistic child-safe. And, everyone seems to still believe that I am using my kids as an excuse, that I actually just don’t want to do whatever it is that they are asking me to do. Most people who aren’t dealing with this in their families just don’t understand how difficult it is.

    And I wanted to say, I too, don’t believe this is God’s will for my boys. Even with my kids being verbal, they are still locked up in a mind that I don’t comprehend. They are still hidden behind a veil, where I can see their personality in outline, but not the whole of who they are. They still often exist in a world of their own making – and both don’t really have friends. Their younger sister is pretty good with them, because them being the way they are is all she’s ever known – their older brother is helpful, but disappointed that his brothers who are 18 months and 32 months younger than he is aren’t like other kids their age. Both kids only partially understand why we can’t go and do the things that other families do.

    I feel like so much has been robbed from our family, from all my kids – so much that we would have had if autism hadn’t come to play at our house. I know who comes to rob, steal, and destroy, and it’s not God. I continue to stand and believe God has healing for my boys – and we have seen progress, but not complete restoration. But I believe God is good, and He will heal them, because if Jesus is the express image of the Father, and went around healing all who were afflicted, then the Father’s will is for all to be healed. The Holy Spirit keeps bringing me to the story of the demonized boy who’s father brought him to the disciples, and they couldn’t heal them. But, when Jesus came, He cast the demon out. God’s will was to set that child free – if He is no respecter of persons, then He will set my children free, as well.

  21. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I am not a churchgoer, but I have faith. My son is high functioning, but his road has not been easy. I do not believe that his condition is a punishment, instead more of a challenge for him to achieve in spite of his problems. Also observing how the people who get to know him have been lifted up in many ways. I feel I would have been a lesser person if he had been a typical child. Dan is now 22, has gradated high school, and is taking on community college a few coourses at a time.

  22. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I am always correcting people when they quote this haha, the other one that annoys me is “there but for the grace of God go I” REALLY…I am always curious about what makes them so special that God would show them grace and not another person

  23. Tom
    Tom says:

    Autism is a very good example of “the least of these” Jesus mentions in Matthew 25. He is discussing eternal destinations, and of course, He makes no reference to prayer, salvation, church attendance or righteousness when consigning “all nations” to either Heaven or Hell. The only determinant of our eternal destiny is how we treated “the least of these,” His brothers.

    Churches should be filled with people who understand this, because surely churches should be fountains of the truth of Jesus, and everybody wants to go to heaven. So, our religious leaders should be teaching us how to identify and meet the special needs of even the least of those in our congregations. How to be “the family of God.” Instead, we are taught trite expressions the obviate our responsibility to love while effectively consigning us to eternal torment for our failure to carry out Jesus single commandment: “This is MY commandment that you Love One Another.”

  24. Cathy Hill
    Cathy Hill says:

    As a Christian, I found your words amazingly refreshing. In fact I cried as I read this and then proceeded to read it out loud to my husband. We are grandparents to seven precious children. One has ” Aspergers” and thankfully is very high functioning. But I have seen my daughter fight tooth and nail for him and exhaust herself while dealing with difficulties that that this precious boy endures as well as the joys he brings us all. But more than just this blog about Autism, it was the gut honesty about walking this out with God. I too have faced my share of heartbreak and I have seen others that I love go through mundane trials to horrific heartbreak. We have served on the mission field as well as pastoring locally for many years. This blog said what I have tried to find words for many times over the years. Thank you, thank you….

  25. Tina S.
    Tina S. says:

    If I could, I would high five you or give you a fistbump for this post. You hit the nail on the head as to why it makes my skin crawl to hear people say this phrase over and over. I have 3 autistic children and let me tell you…if the phrase were true, I should be receiving my trophy and medal any day now….

    I love your writing style and viewpoint. Keep writing. It’s genuine and honest, and I love that.

    • jason
      jason says:

      Thanks, Tina. I just checked out your blog. Very cool! And yeah, your trophy is in the mail. Should be there real soon… Thanks for reading. It’s always nice to find other parents who are navigating their Christian faith and special needs.

  26. Dr. Maria T
    Dr. Maria T says:

    You sound a little angry with God over the autism. I have noticed this a lot in people. It seems like people are in a sea of frustration with autism, and they haven’t learned to float. God uses everything for the good. If you can believe that, then it doesn’t matter whether God “gave” your son autism or not. All that matters is if God can USE your son to His Good Purposes.

    In the sea, you can either fight the current and become exhausted, or you can learn to face up to the sky and float while you put faith in God to use your son for His Design. It isn’t that hard. He has a purpose. And, after studying this for a very long time, I can say with all sincerity, your son may hold the very key to understanding God in a new way.

    Let go of your verbal biases and embrace your son as a sensory connoisseur. It will open a door for you to discover Him in a new way.

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