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How Autism Grew My Faith

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How Autism Grew My Faith

Rev. Stephanie C. Holmes, MA, BCCC

Autism Asperger’s Digest | October 2013 Online Article

 

As any good self-respecting, type-A personality will tell you, you have to have a plan for life, and then you work the plan—period. My plan was graduating from college at 19 and then marrying at 20, to have all my children before the age of 30, have a successful counseling practice built by that time, and then go part-time until the children were school age, then resume to a full-time counseling practice during school hours with maybe one work night a week. My goal was to be a marriage and family therapist and work up to become a speaker or seminar leader for some major Christian organizations and retire as old as possible. This was the path set in motion until the Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) diagnosis in my oldest child altered that course. Diagnosis day changed my life forever. It rocked my world and shook my faith. What did I truly believe in? Whom did I believe in? Why would a loving God even make autism? Why would He pick me and my family to deal with it? Why did He do this to her?

Well, my type-A persona was not going to let this diagnosis alter my life: denial. I was right on track with Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. Denial can be in the rejection of the diagnosis, the prognosis, or how it will impact the life of the family. At this stage in the game, without knowing it, my faith was in myself. I am smart and educated and I will do everything in my power to “help” or “cure” my daughter and make other people understand. Another path set in motion by the weight of my ignorance of the spectrum was spending a lot of time demanding answers from God and demanding He “fix this” so I could get on with my plan. I became a little disillusioned because God was not “helping.” After all, Scripture says, “Ask and you will receive” and what about “Giving me the desires of my heart”?

I attended every autism conference, worked with Defeat Autism Now doctors, and read all the books I could find about AS, yet my disillusionment grew to anger. The “whys” with God turned into, “Well, God, if you don’t handle this, I will!” There were many things to be angry with. My anger was directed at the school system that was supposed to be helping. It seems like they would want my daughter to be successful and they would want to carry out the individualized education plan (IEP), but many did not. Most teachers, special education teachers, administrators, and county officials were ignorant of AS in general and even more so about Aspie girls. It was also becoming obvious to me that my family was not always accepted at some church and community functions. Some would invite us but say, “Well, we don’t know if we can handle her.” I grew angry at God because instead of growing a private therapy practice I was spending every spare moment rescuing a teacher or school who were mishandling my daughter’s diagnosis, preparing for an IEP meeting, or learning more about AS and finding nothing about Aspie girls. I knew something was wrong inside when often I was angry with my daughter for having this syndrome.

One cannot stay angry forever, so I moved on to bargaining. “OK, God, if you will find her the right school or take this away from her I will….” “OK, God, I will homeschool one year, but that is it—one year, then You need to….” Bargaining did not go so well with me. I was still not in control of the situation no matter how hard I tried. For some, the bargaining stage is the hardest, but thankfully for me my type-A personality wouldn’t let me stay depressed long. I had to pull her from public school, give up my career, homeschool, and turn my life to the world of learning about the spectrum. But I was depressed. For some people this can lead to clinical depression and a professional counselor is needed, but it was here I began to wrestle with my faith. Apparently believing in myself and doing things my way was not working; I realized I was far more selfish than I had ever thought. The focus of “helping her” was really more about “How can we get this under control so I can move about my life more freely?” It was the homeschooling year that I truly got to know my daughter: Who is she? What triggers her? What does she like and dislike? How do sensory issues contribute? As I finally began to understand her, I finally made it to acceptance.

The person with autism has many gifts and talents, and the person with autism has dreams and challenges just like everyone else. It just so happens the challenges are compounded. What does this have to do with my faith?

My selfishness in the form of personal goals was at rest and needed a push. Instead of focusing on how “autism affected me and the overall goal,” the change of focus had to be “how does autism affect her and what will make her be as successful as she can be—at whatever level that is”? I had to learn to speak Aspie. The Aspie mind is a different world. To connect with an Aspie, you have to be willing to leave your world and enter theirs.

Autism opened my eyes that for most of my life I believed in God and never doubted in God, but my faith was more in my own abilities. My sheltered upbringing led me to believe if I were a good enough person, nothing challenging would happen to me. If you do x, y, and z, then God has to [fill in the blank], and you live happily ever after. I had somehow forgotten Jesus’ words in John 16:33: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” God is not obligated to prevent bad things. He never guaranteed a perfect life. What He did guarantee were troubles and tribulation but with His peace as you sojourn. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” What you learn in that journey is that when your faith and trust is in the Lord, your desires change because you change.

 

My life focus has changed from being a typical family therapist to a family and marriage counselor who specializes in special needs families. Because of that change in focus, I have been asked to speak at various regional, national, and world conferences about “helping special needs families.” In the end, when my focus was on God—and helping others—He gave me the desire of my heart, but my desire changed. There was a song I learned as a child in church called J-O-Y: Jesus and Others and You, What a wonderful way to spell joy. In a way, autism helped me get my JOY back. Autism allowed me to see that in difficult times and trials, God was with me and because of this I could truly put my faith in Him and not myself.

BIO

Stephanie C. Holmes, MA, is a Board Certified Christian Counselor and Certified Autism Specialist. Her life focus changed when her oldest daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Her current focus includes Aspie Teens and Aspie Marriages.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

 


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