“1 in 50.”
That’s the new statistic that was trumpeted from the rooftops just a few weeks ago. One school-age child in fifty is on the autism spectrum.
Is that an inflated statistic? Yep.
Is there over-diagnosis? Sure.
Was it a poorly-conducted, only quasi-professional survey? Indeed. Fellow autism dad Stuart Duncan has a great analysis here.
And yet, the very fact that so many people are ready to believe it is, in itself, significant. After all, no stat sounds far-fetched if you “know somebody.” And these days, in my experience, almost everyone knows at least one child with autism.
It will take years for the real statistics to come to the surface. The hype will die down, and one day, everyone will be able to agree not only on the numbers, but on an actual definition and cause. Personally, I suspect the blanket “autism spectrum” will be completely re-imagined and divided with better descriptions and far more specificity.
But for now, 1 in 50 does mean something. It means that we need to be ready, no matter what sphere of influence we swim in, to embrace more of these kids. Ready to withhold judgment, to accept their quirks, to help out, and to adapt in ways we never had to think about before. In Christian circles, we have a word for this kind of thing, and it’s not awareness. It’s grace.
Last month, my son interrupted our church service. We have a special classroom for kids on the spectrum, but they come out while the worship band is playing. They like it. As one of the pastors, I sit on the front row, and on this Sunday, Jack saw me and bolted through the aisles. I didn’t even see him because I had my eyes closed. But when I heard a commotion and opened them, I saw a bunch of smiles. A mom had snatched him up in her arms, grinning ear to ear. Half the congregation saw it, apparently, and they were smiling too.
That, friends, is what I am talking about. That is grace.
We need grace for the boy who interrupts our worship services.
We need grace for the kid hugging the floor of the frozen food aisle. His mom is doing the best she can.
We need grace for the chatty little girl in the movie theater. Sitting still and concentrating are harder for her.
And we, the parents, need grace as we try to figure out how to correct, protect, and train our kids to live with the rest of society. We’re probably doing it differently than you would. I’m sure we’re getting many things wrong. Please, give us grace. We’ve had to throw out our playbooks, here, and the game is very, very complex.
Being aware of the latest stats isn’t all that important. Not for everyone, anyway. What matters is that you, the business owner, the waitress, the teacher, the mailman… you will meet more of our special children in the days to come. They are different, but not that different. They can feel your warmth. And they could use your patience. Your good humor. Your grace.