Sunday, November 25, 2012

Autism, God, and Poetry

“Daddy, did God want me to have Autism?”
“Daddy, why did God want your Mom in heaven?”
 “Daddy, when will I get rid of my Autism?”
“Daddy, will Elf always be here with me?”

It has been quite a few weeks of questions as Caden has begun to understand that the world is bigger than him.  Yes, every parent gets questions like these at some point, but Caden’s newly acquired sense of wonderment coupled with his Autism has led to a whole new set of parenting challenges for this already challenged parent.

During calmer times, Jenn and I convinced each other that the communication and relational challenges associated with raising a son with Autism have enriched us as educators, allowing us to appreciate different types of learning, expressing, and emoting.  Being faced with the above questions, however, has pushed the boundaries of my ability to wax poetic.  Poetics and Autism (at least Caden’s version) do not mix.

My standard answer of “I don’t know” doesn’t work with the “Daddy….questions—they are too important and deserving of answers.  I also can’t lie to him and tell him a fairy tale because he will hold it against me later if it doesn’t turn out to be true.  I opted instead for answers involving faith and trust that everything will work out for the best.

I should have known—faith, trust, and the promise of a better tomorrow are far too abstract for Autism.  Caden’s reality is literal, concrete, non-metaphorical, and my answers were, well, not.  Those answers that can allow us to buy time until our children grow older and develop a stronger sense of themselves and the world don’t work with Autism.  It is a shame that kids who already have a hard time in the world can’t be afforded the same protection from it that neuro-typical children often are. 

So, with a deep breath I offered him some answers to his “Daddy…” questions.  “Daddy, did God want me to have Autism?”  ”Well Caden, I don’t know if he wanted you to have Autism, but he did want you to be here with me so you can be my buddy.  I love you, and that’s what matters.”
“Daddy, why did God want your Mom in heaven?”  “I guess it was time.  Everyone has a time, and it is nothing for us to be scared about.  Grandma was sick, and now she doesn’t have to be.  She gets to sing in heaven, now, and make the whole world happy.”

“Daddy, when will I get rid of my Autism?”  “Never, buddy, but we are doing everything we can to get you therapy so that your Autism doesn’t make the world so hard for you.  There are some things that Autism does for you that make you very special, and we wouldn’t want those to go away.”
“Daddy, will Elf always be here with me?”  “Yes, always.  Elf is your best friend now and forever.”

Are there better answers to these questions?  Of course there are, but they are what I had at the time, and what seemed to be the most concrete answers I had for very difficult questions.  I never imagined that metaphors—tools of language to help us understand difficult concepts—could create such problems. 

Thankfully the phone rang this morning when Caden started with: “Soooo God makes kids right?  And I was in Mommy’s belly right?  So, that means Mommy met God right?  And how did I get out of Mommy’s belly anyway?”  I’m really not ready for part two of this at bedtime…