Please stop praying for my son with autism to be healed

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So many people have told me over the years they are praying for my son. I am incredible grateful for that and the kindness they show but what are they praying about?
Are they asking God for my 8 year old to finally speak? Are they asking for his seizures to stop? Are they praying he learns to communicate or to read and write? Or are they praying for him to be healed of his autism?

Let me be very clear..I want people to pray for my son. My entire family needs prayers and needs God more than we ever have. We need love and support. But please please could you not pray for my son with autism to be healed?

Here is why.

There are many occasions when Jesus healed individual people in the Bible. These include people who were blind, deaf, paralysed, had leprosy, fevers, seizures and even those who had died. Despite studying all of these incidences I could not find any occasions when Jesus prayed for anyone who had learning difficulties or communication difficulties like my son’s autism to be healed.

Then there were mass healing events that Jesus did. Again although many were healed there is no direct reference to children or adults who struggled socially or had repetitive behaviours like my son.

The Bible says that Jesus welcomed the little children. Although I have no proof I am certain there were children in Bible times who displayed similar difficulties to my child. I know they were every bit as welcome to Jesus.

The Bible says that my child is fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14).
The Bible says my son was knitted together in my womb (Psalm 139: 13)
The Bible says my son is created in God’s likeness (Ephesians 4:24)
The Bible says my son is the apple of God’s eye. (Psalm 17:8)
The Bible says my son is God’s workmanship created to do good works. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Bible says God has plans to prosper my son and not to harm him, to give him a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

God sees no difference between my son and anyone else. He does not view my son as less than or inadequate in any way. Could God heal my son of his seizures and his genetic condition that causes tumours in his body? Yes, without a doubt. Could God open my son’s mouth to give him clear speech? Yes, I believe that with all my heart. Could God cause him to be more settled and display less challenging behaviour and agitation? Without a seconds doubt of course he could. These are things I pray over him daily.

IMG_0440I pray for peace for him. I pray for joy and laughter. I pray for people to understand him and show him love. I pray safety as he travels so far back and forth in country roads to school each day. I pray for a receptive mind and open heart. I pray strength to his body and ease from pain. I pray for him to sleep (I am human so this is something I need too).

I pray for strength for myself as I care for him. I pray for wisdom and unity for those who work with me to meet his needs. I pray for his sister as she deals and lives with some events that could traumatise her. I pray her tender heart is not broken too often. I pray for friends she can trust. I pray she knows she is loved when her brother consumes so much of my time.

There is so many things I pray for and so many things others can pray for too. There are things you CAN pray for for my son to be healed of, but autism is not one of them. Autism is a neurological difference in his mind that causes him to see the world a bit differently. Autism is a part of the way God made him and it makes him beautiful and perfect.

God made each one of us part of a body. My son is every bit as much a part of the body of Christ as the next person even if he has severe learning difficulties, is vision impaired, has global delay and has autism. It does not matter to God that he flaps, spins, screams and is unable to speak. Man looks at all that but as the Bible says “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

I pray that the world looks at my son’s heart too.

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My son has the type of autism that is not a hidden disability

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My son was running away from me in the supermarket yet again. I had held him tight as we went through the checkout but let go of him for a second or two to pick up my bags. That was all it took. As I chased after him towards the automatic front doors and into a very busy car park I noticed a stranger was gently holding his shoulder.

“Is he yours?” she asked as she saw the sweat appear on my forehead.

“Yes”, I puffed as I once again held his wrists.

“He has autism and he is heading right for the car park lift. Thanks for your support.”
“I knew right away he had autism. You can tell.”
If I was given just a small amount of money each time someone told me something similar I would be rich.
My son has the type of autism that is NOT a hidden disability.

So what makes his difficulties and diagnosis so obvious?
Is it the fact he flaps and stims CONSTANTLY? I really means constantly! He can not sit or stand still. He shakes things, chews things, flaps things, flicks things, squeezes things and licks things all the time. It is impossible to NOT notice it. His body movements are not hidden.
Is it the fact he can not talk? That may seem like something you would think would not be noticeable but to hear the noises he DOES make it is pretty clear to most people that these are not noises you hear everyday. His noises are not hidden.
Is it the fact he screams? He can scream longer than a fire alarm and more high pitched that a whistle. He screams randomly and inappropriately whenever he feels like it. There is nothing hidden about that in any way.
What about the fact he is still wearing nappies? As much as I try not to show this he thinks nothing of pulling up his top to chew or pulling at his trousers making it obvious. He has no social awareness and no understanding. Yes he could be incontinent for any number of reasons but combined with his noises and movements it adds to the number of reasons why people realise right away upon meeting him that he has autism.
He runs, he flaps, he obviously has learning difficulties, and he behaves quite differently to other children his age. He is sometimes in a wheelchair for his own safety and if I have not got the energy to run a marathon while doing my shopping then I often use a disabled trolley for convenience.
He would rather spend hours at hand dryers in the bathroom than anywhere else in a store, unless they have a lift. He is entertained for hours just watching lift doors open and close and open and close over and over again.
He is unmissable. He is loud. His tongue is more out of his mouth than it is in. He is handsome, cheeky and adorable. I don’t hide him and I don’t hide his autism. He doesn’t hide his diagnosis either. In fact he flaunts it.

People see him and people see his autism. 
Sometimes they don’t react very well to that. Other times, like the beautiful stranger today, they see a child with obvious difficulties and look out for him.
They comment, they look, and they react because my child has the type of autism that is NOT a hidden disability.
For many who are not as severe as my son I understand why autism can be a hidden disability. But it isn’t true that it is a hidden disability for everyone.

Six things you may not know about my child with developmental delay

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The first diagnosis my son ever had was ‘global developmental delay’ and like so many I understood this to mean he was a little bit behind his peers but would probably, in time and with support, be just fine.

He was only one year old when we were told he was struggling and not meeting key milestones like sitting up unaided, making attempts at speech and playing with toys.

I was in denial. I was sad.

I stopped taking him places (probably one of the worst things I could have done in hindsight) and I ploughed through each day willing him to learn skills others mastered with ease. I blamed myself. I cried myself to sleep at night. I sang to him, read to him and played with him for hours, but very little changed.
As years went on we collected diagnosis like a stamp collector collects stamps.

The term developmental delay is now slowly being replaced by his doctors to ‘learning difficulties’and I have come to accept now that he never will catch up with others.

Over the last seven years I have found so few people have any understanding of what developmental delay actually means. It is such a huge, all encompassing, spectrum ranging from children with mild delays in some areas to children of school age still unable to weight bear or even support their own head. It covers children who are behind in reading and writing, to children who are fully wheelchair bound and unable to speak. It can be a stand alone diagnosis or the effect of other more complex issues like cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s syndrome and many complex genetic conditions (some we have yet to name!)

Though every child and situation is different, here are a few facts about developmental delay as it applies to my son:

1. Some children DO catch up, other’s don’t.

My beautiful son, will forever be developing at their own unique pace and time and will always need support right into adult life.

2. As a child gets older the term developmental delay is likely to disappear and instead be replaced by some form of learning difficulty or perhaps simply referred to in terms of severity of other conditions such as severe autism.

This does NOT mean the child no longer has delays just that the way of describing those delays has changed.

3. Although my son’s development is way behind others there is so much about him that will always be ‘age appropriate’.

For example he started eating solid food at the exact same time as other babies at around six month old. He lost his first tooth at aged 5 and he wears clothes for his chronological age, not his developmental age. His body continues to grow and develop even if his mind and skills are years younger. He will still go through puberty as he grows and he eats just as much as any other child his age.

4. Developmental delay is often unseen and therefore can often be classed as an invisible disability.

This does not make it any less difficult for the child or adult or the carers. If you see a much older child still being supervised in a toilet or not talking when you speak to them please think about the fact they may look ok but they could be struggling to understand or communicate.

5. Milestones are worth celebrating whatever age they happen.

Child development has stages that almost every child goes through regardless of when it happens. A child with developmental delay will go through the same stages just at a different time. For example they learn to sit, then crawl, then stand, then walk. Or they learn to make noise, then babble then the first word. If your five year old is babbling for the first time this is wonderful because at some point they may change that babble to a word. If your four year old can stand unaided then one day soon they may learn to walk.

6. Developmental delay does not define anyone.

Society may put pressure on people to succeed and compete but that does not mean that we have to. Life is not about the destination but about the journey. For some they are just enjoying the journey at a slower pace and that is every bit as wonderful as those who choose to run.

As Martin Luther King Jn says:
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

That, I can assure you, is what my son is doing. If he can move forward then I can too. However long this journey takes we are enjoying it together.

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How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

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If I had a pound for every time someone told me my children will ‘grow out it’, or ‘be fine when they are older’, I would be a rich woman. People expect you get ill or have difficulties for a short time, you have a period of struggling, and then you ‘get better’. You ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’, or you have an operation or take medication, and then you become ‘normal’ again and function like everyone else.

But what if the difficulties and struggles are life long? What if you won’t get ‘any better’ even if you improve?

It is three years this month since we received my sons first major diagnosis. Though the initial shock and pain has eased I still get sad some days. Because three years on we are still in that same place.

He still has the exact same diagnosis. He hasn’t been cured. He hasn’t went into remission or stopped having his difficulties. I can’t read his diagnosis report and think they are talking about an altogether different child than the one sitting on my knee.

Yes he is making progress. But it is slow. And in spurts. And sometimes we still get regression. Oh are we allowed to mention that? The dreaded ‘regression’ word? Am I allowed to admit that sometimes my children struggle more than they did before? Or lose a skill they previously mastered?

How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

It sure looks like my son is getting better. After all for 678 days all he wore was the same red school jumper yet all of a sudden now he will wear other tops? That sounds like improvement. And it is! My daughter has started to master reading and writing. Surely that is her ‘getting better’ you suggest? And yes it seems so.

On the surface my children are both coming on well. We have had a recent successful play date, we have had them taking part in school activities I never dreamt they would ever manage, and two weeks into the summer holidays we have managed some days out and visits to parks. It seems like everything is ‘getting better’. It seems like to some that all is well.

Because people find the life-long bit so hard to understand. People see what they want to see. And after a while they get bored with seeing the same struggles, the same excuses and the same problems. People want to help and get upset when they do help but the problems still exists even when they have done everything they can to support. We look for quick fixes and short-term solutions and life long conditions need on-going, energy draining, never-ending support. It requires a commitment few are willing to make.

It is hard for people to understand why three years down the journey I still get sad some days. Why? Well because some days it feels like I am still where I was three years ago. It hasn’t gone away. And it never will.

There is no cure.

My daughter may ‘get better’ at social situations but it will never quite come naturally to her.
She may ‘get better’ at understanding that not all language is literal in meaning. But idioms and sarcasm will always need explaining to her with patience and understanding.
My son may ‘get better’ at being understood without any speech. He may one day learn to communicate via a device or language or pictures. But he will always have severe communication difficulties to some degree.
My son will never ‘catch up’ with his peers. He is not suddenly going to run a race, or write a story or learn to swim. He may never speak.
I have no idea when they might master potty training.

We are in this for the long haul. When others get ‘bored’ and move on we will still be here. We will still be struggling on.

Doctor’s can’t ‘cure’ my children. They won’t ‘get well soon’ or ‘grow out of it’. It won’t ‘magically disappear’ when they get older or become teenagers. In fact it may magnify.

You may not see them struggle but they do. It may seem ‘cute’ to flap and suck on your clothes at six but whimageat about sixteen? It may seem ok to have your tongue out all the time at six but what about ten? Or thirty?

My children have autism. My son has neurofibromatosis. They will become adults with autism one day and my son will become an adult with NF. His tumours will grow with him and his skin will grow fibromas and patches throughout his life. He will become an adult with social and communication difficulties and a learning disability.

They will ‘get better’ at developing a thick skin and coping with ridicule. They will ‘get better’ at devising coping strategies and becoming a part of society in some way or other.

But they won’t ever ‘get better’ from their life long conditions. And I may never ‘get better’ at coping either.

I may have more good days now than bad. But some days I am right back where I started three years ago. Life long condition means a life long journey. I know some people find that hard to deal with. But you know what? So do I.

With us, but not with us

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Maybe the thought of new year made us brave. Maybe we didn’t want to offend the person who had bestowed a costly gift on us. Maybe the thought of getting out the house after a fortnight of the children being off school was just too enticing. Whatever it was that prompted us to take two six-year olds with autism to a Saturday afternoon pantomime in the middle of the city centre, we certainly must have been a little foolhardy. I packed a survival bag with all the essentials and climbed into the car.

Amazingly it wasn’t a disaster. Admittedly that was party due to iPad’s, doors in the bathrooms, hand dryers and taps in the bathrooms and an automatic front door, far more than it was to do with costumes, scripts and acting abilities. We lasted until part way through the second half. And as I told both my children just how proud I was of them for this major achievement it hit me:

They were both with me, but only one of them was actually ‘with’ me.

Only one of the children was even aware we went to a pantomime. The other had either played on his iPad, been enjoying the sensory excitement of the public bathrooms or exploring the mechanisms of the automatic door. To him it was just another building. He could not tell me (not that he can speak anyway) what the pantomime was about, any parts he liked or even what it was called. I am not sure he was even aware we were supposed to be watching anything.

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He just can’t seem to connect with our world at all. At least not in the way we want him to.

As both children prepare to go back to school in a few days time after having a fortnight holidays for Christmas and New Year, he is once again oblivious. We show him visuals and even a photo of his school. He won’t understand until his taxi comes up the driveway on Monday morning.

As usual I will print off some pictures of his time at home to share at news time with his class. But although he was with us throughout Christmas and New Year he wasn’t actually aware of any of it. After all he can’t even understand a day of the week let alone a year change. Christmas was just another day to him. Sometimes I wonder if I am sharing the photos with his school to prove to myself and them that we do things. Isaac would rather show them a video of him watching the lifts at a well-known high street shop. That, to him, was the highlight of his break from school.

Tomorrow I will once again take him to church. Church to him is a place with red seats that flap up and down, a place with fluorescent lights to follow at strange angles with your eyes, a place that you get a cake at the end. He can’t sing (but he does enjoy the music) and he has no idea of any of the Bible stories or concepts. He is in his own world.

He will be with me, but not with me.

He is now two-thirds of my height. Yet he still can’t utter a word. He still can’t use pictures to effectively communicate his wishes. And most of the time he is still trapped in his own little world. Taking him places is like taking someone from another country. He doesn’t understand the language, the culture, the things people do or any of the social nuances. So he copes whatever way he can.

I am getting used to his inability to talk and communicate. I can live with the fact he needs me to look after him like a young baby still. I accept he will need support for many years to come.

But one day it would be nice to get a connection with him.

One day it would be lovely to take him with us and actually have him with us in every sense of the word.

Until then you will find me at the doors in the public bathrooms. I will be with him, even if he isn’t with me.
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They can’t just “get over it”

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My son has Neurofibromatosis type 1: he can’t just ‘get over it’. He has it for life. The implications of it are unknown.
My daughter has autism: she can’t just ‘get over it’. She has it for life. How it will affect her in the future is as yet unknown.
My son is non verbal: he can’t just ‘get over it’. He may be non verbal for the rest of his life. He may not be. We just don’t know.
He also has autism, visual impairment and learning difficulties. You don’t just ‘get over’ any of those either.
My children are both incontinent. Well, guess what, they won’t just ‘get over’ that overnight either!

It is hard to understand. I have hope because I need to have hope. But there is no magical cure. The future is uncertain and I have to live with that.

But one thing I do know is that my children are doing everything they can to make the best of their lives. So when they get upset or struggle or become overwhelmed it isn’t because they have given in, or because they are spoiled or want their own way, or because they want an easy life. It is because they have disabilities; disabilities that may be unseen but are very real. You may look at them and think they are fine. But they are not.

The world is confusing and loud and overwhelming for them. They rely on support networks that others don’t need as much. They see the world in black and white. They take things literally. They overgeneralise. They look at things from a completely different perspective. They have sensory overwhelmed from places that cause others no issues. They have anxiety to a scale many will never be able to imagine. They struggle with simple everyday tasks that we take for granted. Everything is an effort, a big deal, a massive achievement.

My daughter lost her comfort blanket and she was distraught. It was impossible for her to ‘get over it’. She had had the same cloth since she was a new born baby. No other cloth was good enough. Nothing else smelled, felt, looked or could offer her comfort like that cloth. Maybe all children have to grow up at some point. Life has disappointments. Special things get lost. But a child with autism can not ‘get over’ anything just like that. Her whole world turned upside down. Her sense of security and comfort disappeared. Her brain had to process that her cloth was no longer available. The depth of sadness this brought was tangible. It was found again but her faith and security in life remains uneasy. Something of paramount importance to her was lost and now she worries that something like that may one day happen again. That is a huge amount of stress for any 5 year old to carry around all day. She will never just ‘get over’ something like that. Her world changed. And I can never fix that for her.

My daughter is coming home from school in tears. She has a long list of things causing her distress. She isn’t just wanting her own way or demanding she is someone special. She can’t cope with noise or crowds or new unfamiliar routines. She is struggling to keep up with her peers and in the midst of sensory overwhelming in school she is finding listening to a teachers voice a real struggle. This is not made up stories. This is sensory processing difficulties. This is autism.

I took her in the front door of the school this week to avoid the playground. Another parent spoke to me when I came out. In her opinion I am spoiling my daughter. I am babying her. She just needs it get on with it like all the other children do. She just needs to ‘get over it’.

If only….

If only my kids could ‘just get over it’…

They may learn to cope better as they grow. But they will always have nf1, or autism, vision impairment and learning difficulties. The same way others have health conditions, mental health issues, struggle with bereavement or loneliness. Be patient with people. Have compassion. There are very few things in life people ‘just get over’. Most people are trying hard. I know my children are.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” Eph 4:2
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I walked beside you

I recently had the privilege of going on a walk with my son’s school. He attends a school for children with severe and complex needs. There was nearly as many adults on the walk as there were children. There were wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and a high percentage of children who have no speech. It was truly one of the most beautiful walks I have had the honour of being on.
I was holding my own son’s hand and here is how our walk went:

I walked beside you on the school trip one day
Holding your hand all of the way
You don’t see danger in the way that I do
You don’t know the way but trust that I do
I see the hedges, you pull the thorns
I watch for traffic, you laugh at horns.
I point out the library, you yearn for the doors
You pull to get in there and drop to all fours
The walk has now halted, a child is down
The teacher shows you photos and we keep walking through town

I walked beside you on the school trip one day
You held onto my hand for all of the way
You don’t see life in the way that I do
The innocence of childhood embodied in you
I see the challenges, you just see play
I worry for the future, you just live for the day
I point out the park, you just see the stream
As I pull you away you just let out a scream
Teachers come running with photos in hand
They knew this might happen, so they had it all planned

I walked beside you on the school trip one day
You taught me so much as we went on our way
Your mind is years younger than the body it uses
You keep falling over, legs covered in bruises
But you keep getting up and you keep going on
You may not have words but you sing your own song
You laugh at the birds and you flap at a fence
The joy that these bring you is pure and immense
I need more of your joy, I need more of your zest
We could walk so much further, but today let us rest.

I walked beside you like I always do
You needing me and me needing you.

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