I work at a private school for kids with Autism. I started there about 9 months ago and prior to working there I had a very limited understanding of Autism. I had learned about the diagnosis in my classes and in my internship, but I did not really know anyone with Autism. Since working there I’ve learned so much, more than any textbook could teach me. I hear a lot of my parents say, “If you’ve seen one kid with Autism, you’ve seen one kid with Autism.” This is very true. I see about 15-25 kids every week, either individually or in groups. All of my kids are unique and have different interests, quirks, and personalities. In interacting with these kids every week, I’ve come to really love working with them and have a new appreciation for people who have been impacted by this diagnosis. This is the first job I can honestly say I enjoy. I no longer have to give a sugar-coated, half-hearted answer to the question, “Do you like your job?” I genuinely love my job, even though it is the most challenging job I’ve ever had.
The picture at the top of this post is a drawing from one of my kids who is 10 years old. He came into my office one day and said, “I want to draw a picture of Jesus!” and he came up with this in about 10 minutes. I’ve shown this picture to a number of people and a lot of them have been surprised at how closely it resembles Picasso’s paintings. Funny enough, this kid not-so-humbly refers to himself as “Van Gough” even though I’ve told him his artistic abilities more accurately reflect Picasso. This kid loves drawing and is very good at it for his age. He often says, “Drawing is the best time ever!” He could draw for hours if I let him. If we had all day I would love to see other things he could come up with, but unfortunately our short one hour a week does not allow time for that (ain’t nobody got time for that…)
Since I’ve started working there, I’ve had to really wrestle with how the Gospel interacts with Autism. Mainly, how does this bring glory to God? How do you share the Gospel with someone who does not have the cognitive capacity to understand it the only way I know how to communicate it? I’ve come up with a few conclusions that are not fully complete, but still worth sharing. The perfectionist in me hates writing out incomplete thoughts, but I’ve decided that if I wait until all of my thoughts are complete, this blog won’t have a fighting chance. So here goes…
One of the characteristics of Autism is “restricted interests.” What this means is someone with Autism is likely to hold a fixated interest on something, whether it be an episode of spongebob, letters, swinging or reese pieces. Sensory activities, like feeling the circular motion on a swing, can be very calming for people with Autism. But in my arrogance, I really struggled to (and continue to struggle) have patience with this aspect of Autism. I don’t want to sit and watch the same scene in spongebob over and over. I get tired of blowing bubbles and reading the same book 7 times. It’s hard for me to understand how something I deem to be so trivial, could be so entertaining for someone else. After about 6 months of trying I got to a point of deep discouragement. I started thinking that my work was in vain. The zeal I had when I started my job began to dwindle and I didn’t desire to tap into the creative energy God gave me to discover new ways to engage my kids. But God is so faithful to engage me and brought me some fresh insight a few months ago. In going through Porterbrook at the Oaks, I came across a very encouraging excerpt from G.K. Chesterton that awakened and convicted me. In the quote he discusses how bored and jaded adults can be. He says,
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
We look in contempt on children and think them lesser than us because of how simple their interests are and how easily entertained they are. Sin has made us tired. Sin has made us callous. But our heavenly Father is without sin and never tires. The authors of Porterbrook summarize Chesterton’s quote and I loved their wording of it, “God is never bored of life. He is life. He is, as Van Morrison puts it, ‘the youth of a thousand summers.'” God finds eternal delight in his created order. Think about this world and all of the intricate details interwoven throughout it. Why stars? Why daises? Why giraffes? Why sea creatures? Why colors? Why laughter? Why wine? Because God created all of it and delights in it. There is no end to the joy he finds in beholding his creation. Kids, and especially kids with Autism, reflect this characteristic of God with relentless vigor. They reflect God because they are made in his image. They are not quick to pass from one thing to the next and they definitely are not easily bored. They do not shy away from communicating their delight in the simplest things. And this brings glory to God. Oh that we would be more like our joyful, zealous, life-giving Father!
This brings us to Proverbs 8, which reads, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old… when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily in his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” The authors of Porterbrook wrap up these thoughts by reflecting on this Scripture:
“Jesus, personified as Wisdom, speaks of his delight and joy in creation. Jesus says in effect, “I was filled with fresh delight day after day, always laughing in his presence, playing in every corner of his world and delighting in humanity.” We look for joy in sin and we are quickly bored and always moving on in search of more. We are wearied in our futile pursuit of ever-greater excitement. But in eternity there will be a ‘rush to life’ running through our veins. Our ‘life and joy will be gigantic’ so that each moment will bring fresh ecstasy; each daisy will be a fresh delight; each sunrise will bring fresh wonder. We will cry to God, ‘Again, again, do it again!’ Now we are old and tired and cynical. But then we will be young again, forever young, forever delighting in God.”