Unexpected Blessings: Voices from the Edge

ProfessorCob
My son is in a hurry to get the marketing done because I have promised him Wendy's for supper. He races around Save-A-Lot gathering the things we get every week: pizza, chips, soda. I take a more leisurely approach, pushing my cart up and down every aisle as I peruse my list.

"Do you know where the baking powder is?" asks an elderly woman in the baking aisle.

"Right here," I say and reach up on the top shelf to get the item. I hand it to her.

"Don't know why they keep changing things around," she grumbles, and I just smile. Just then, I see Allen barreling towards us, his arms full of the microwave sandwiches he likes. He dumps them unceremoniously into the cart and rushes on past. My shopping companion holds her hand to her chest.

"Mercy!" she says. "What's wrong with him?"

I turn to look at my son's retreating form, trying to see what she sees. To me he is just my youngest child, an adult on the autism spectrum. But I know the wild hair--getting Allen to comb it is an issue most days--and the brusque attitude is often seen as others to be strange. Add to that Allen's tall stature--all 6 feet 6 inches of him--and some people do feel threatened by him.

But I know Allen. I know him to be gentle and kind and often confused by the world. I turn and face the woman next to me. "That's my son," I say gently. "He has autism."

"Mercy!" she declares again. "You poor thing!" she pats my arm. "To have a mental child like that!"

I take a deep breath. I could smile and walk on. But even though it might fall on deaf ears, I make a decision to educate. I am, after all, a teacher as well as a mother. "His brain works differently than some," I tell the woman. "There is nothing wrong with his brain. It just takes him longer to understand things. And right now," I lean in towards her conspiratorially, "his mind is focused on getting a burger at Wendy's for supper."

"Still," says the woman, her voice a bit unsure now, "must be a burden on you."

"Not at all," I say. "Allen and I understand each other. We have a routine. He gets the things we need every week." Just then, Allen roars past us again, adding a container of cat litter and a box of trash bags to the cart. He barely pauses as he rounds the corner.

The woman pats my arm again. "Bless your heart," she says.

"You know" I tell her as I begin to move my cart away from hers, "many people are autistic. You might even know some. One in 54 people has some form."

"Really?" She seems surprised. "Are they all like..." she points, "your son?"

I shake my head. "No. Some cannot talk. Some function so well you might not even know they were autistic." I move down the aisle. "Have a nice day," I say.

What's wrong with him? I am sorry to say that I hear that question a lot. Allen doesn't always look like others, or act like others. It takes an intense amount of effort on his part to behave the way society expects him to. His father's funeral a few months ago, for example, required Allen to expend enormous effort to stand by my side and shake hands. And helping Allen process his grief at his father's loss is an ongoing journey. "Autism grief is not neurotypical grief" is a phrase that is now engraved into my brain.

When Allen was born, he seemed to be a healthy baby boy. As the youngest of our three, he was content with very little; he seldom cried or fussed. His older brother and sister made up games with him in the starring role. It wasn't until Allen was three that we learned he had some developmental delays. Ron and I needed to help Allen in different ways than we had helped Dennis and Bonnie. He needed different methods of educations. And along with the developmental delays were some physical problems: A blood condition that produces too much ammonia and an inability to produce salt. He gets dizzy spells sometimes. The diagnosis of autism did not come until adulthood.

Wear BLUE April 2nd | World autism awareness day, Autism dayDid we ask why? I know Ron did. I know that the thought of a disabled child was troubling. Me? I was his mother. No matter what.

But the woman in the market is not unlike the people in John 9 who asked of Jesus, "Who sinned, Rabbi, his man or his parents that he was born blind?" (vs 2). Jesus responded, "Neither this man his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Allen, and others who reside somewhere on the spectrum of autism or are differently abled, is a work of God. Others may not see it, but I know the gentleness that resides within my giant son. Each afternoon, he makes me a cup of tea so I can relax before dinner. Each night, he carefully double-checks the locks on the doors to keep us safe.

I am halfway up the frozen food aisle when I see Allen again. He grins at me and places a package of Tastykakes into the cart. "Almost done?" he asks. Now that the task is almost accomplished, he can slow down. Many who are on the spectrum, like him, can only handle one thing at a time.

"Almost," I say and put a few bags of vegetables into the cart. Just then, I spy the woman from the baking aisle coming towards me.

"Don't know why they put the bread up so high," she grumbles.

Allen strides over to her. "Which one do you want?" he asks. "White or wheat?"

"What?" She is clearly startled. She steps back and eyes him warily. His hair is still wild, but he is smiling now. "Oh, wheat," she says.

Allen grabs the bag and hands it to her. "That's what my mom always gets," he tells her and moves back towards me. The woman is still standing there, holding the bag in her hand, looking at Allen as we walk towards the cash registers.

Works of God come in many forms. Some of them are unexpected. Some of them are a tall young man with wild hair and a kind smile.

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