Sometimes, our kids surprise us with what they are “able” to do. As parents of special needs children, we spend so much time worrying about their struggles and inabilities, that we forget about their God-given abilities. Let me share with you a few examples of my autistic son and the important lessons we have learned.
Eleven years ago, during one of his most difficult years as a young child, Cameron made a special friend.
It was right smack in the middle of a South Carolina summer. The sticky humid air felt heavy and clung to everything it touched. My energetic eight-year-old son, slid the heavy van door open and jumped in with an unusually grand entrance. We were in the pick-up line of his special needs summer camp, a wonderful program that catered to children with many different abilities.
“Hi, Mom!” he said. His excitement seemed to fill the air with electric energy as he wriggled his way into his seat and happily slammed his seatbelt into the buckle. “I have some great news today, Mom!” Through his excitement, I could sense the familiar undertones of sensory overload that often accompanied his extreme emotions.
“Tell me about your camp today,” I urged, curious about the cause of such a frenzy. He began to tell me about a boy in his class, Ben, who had a lot of physical limitations.
“He is blind and and tries to hit anyone who comes close,” Cameron explained. I could tell that this really effected Cameron and my heart went out to Ben at the thought of the amount of fear he must feel every day.
“Did you remember to be a friend?” I asked, hopeful to hear the right answer.
“Yes! And I was able to help him,” he answered emphatically.
We had talked of Ben before. Cameron had briefly mentioned him, as well as a few of the other kids, when I picked him up on the first day of camp. I suggested in passing that Cameron understood what it was like to feel scared or left out and asked him what he could do to help the young boy. But nothing more had been said about it.
My challenging son then proceeded to share how each day of camp he would sit close to this boy and talk to him. For the first week, Ben responded with the typical physical reaction of hitting and pushing him away, making loud noises and acting agitated. But today, Cameron saw something that made him think.
“Today, I noticed that Ben smiled when a toy accidentally landed on his stomach, then he picked it up and threw it.” This discovery spurred Cameron’s curiosity and he decided to do an experiment.
Cameron explained the simple game: he would carefully toss a small building block onto Ben’s stomach. Ben laughed when he felt it land and then threw it back in random directions. Cameron continued this for some time before realizing that they were actually playing with each other. He commented that he didn’t know if anyone had ever played with Ben before. Cameron told me how it was the first time he had seen Ben smile.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I listened to my young son reveal to me a part of his eternal identity. This was a part of him that quite often remained hidden to my mortal eyes. Then God gently whispered to me of Cameron’s unique ability to relate to those who struggle, in part, because of the knowledge gained from his own personal trials.
This past month, I once again sat at the feet of my precious son, and learned from the Master’s hand. I sent my now nineteen-year-old son to his former high school to help his twelve-year-old buddy, Brian, who also has autism. Over the past few months, Cameron has become a mentor to his young friend by answering questions about growing up with autism, sharing common interests, and modeling positive behavior.
As Brain’s family considered the idea of sending him to a new school, they decided it might help for Cameron to come along for support. Brian’s mom explained to me that her son was so nervous about the school tour that he had tears in his eyes and almost didn’t make it out of the car. She said that as he nervously stood in the hallway, waiting for the tour to start, he saw Cameron walking down the hall and immediately began to relax, knowing that he had a friend who understood.
Cameron walked with the small group through the halls of the school, asking questions and offering advice from an autistic perspective. He shared his positive experiences attending the same school a few years prior and reassured Brian, while also acknowledging his nervous feelings.
Once again, I was surprised to catch a glimpse of his eternal identity. I was grateful to see Cameron’s unique ability to relate to others who struggle because of his own personal experiences. His life has not been easy. He has endured great afflictions and has a deep association with the word “suffer.” I know that the Lord has consecrated those afflictions for his good, at least in part, by helping him to reach out to others with an increased ability to understand. Cameron’s life will never be considered normal, but it is good. Oh so good!