Until a few days ago, I thought I knew what my daughter Rachael does for a living. Then she shared an article on Facebook. Since anything about my daughter is important to me, I read it. How glad I am that I did.
Rachael is a miracle worker. She is a behavioral technician with a gift for working with children with autism. We have watched her grow into this calling since she was a teenager – and we have grown with her.
Before she stepped into this field, I paid little attention to people with autism, or for that matter to anyone with special needs. They were not part of my world, so I had little cause to learn about them. Now they are part of my world because one I love dearly has chosen to devote her life to them.
How did I miss this before? How is it possible that I overlooked the world of autism, where real life drama happens? As one might expect, there are genuine heartbreaks there, but there are also genuine triumphs. There are beautiful people in that world. Most of them I do not understand in the way Rachael does, but I have begun to appreciate the picture of the Creator built into each face.
Yes, His image is there, in each girl and boy who processes the world differently than I ever will. And maybe that is why they are with us. Our impersonal Western civilization has endeavored for centuries to reduce human beings to formulas, stamping a cookie-cutter identity on every individual in the interest of efficiency. Along the way we have forgotten that efficiency is not what God is all about. He is intent on relationship, which means getting to know people individually. And that is where it gets really, really hard. Relationship means vulnerability. It means hard work. It means awkward silences, penetrating questions, quality time, and loving forgiveness when unintended offenses come. That is why the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves – and why we cannot really love God with all our hearts unless and until we learn to love our neighbors.
No one is exactly the same. We do a great disservice to each other and to God by trying to fit everyone into some kind of mold. Maybe that is why He has gifted us with so many people with autism. If we will learn from them, they will help us remember the uniqueness within each one of us, and the uniqueness of our relationships with our Creator. Maybe if we learn that lesson, we will stop trying to put God in a box and just let Him be God.
Thank you, Rachael, for helping me understand what you do. Thank you for doing it.
The article Rachael shared is by Chrissy Kelly, a mother blessed with two sons with autism. Enjoy her explanation of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the difference it has made for good in her family. Then take a look at her blog, Life With Greyson + Parker, and see what you have been missing. Maybe you’ll find a new way to make a lasting difference for good right there where you live.
Originally published May 16, 2012
on Life With Greyson + Parker
When I first learned that my son needed to have intensive all day therapy also known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), I was sick to my stomach. I was so angry that my sweet, beautiful, blue-eyed 2 year old boy was going to have his childhood stolen away from him. Sick that I was actually the person responsible for arranging for it to happen. While other kids were playing at the park, or going to the zoo with their moms, my son would be at home…screaming, oftentimes while in a little yellow chair whose site I already hated from Early Intervention Preschool.
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים
How do we love the unlovely? That is one of the questions Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise explore in Rain Man. Hoffman earned an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, a man with autism whose family had chosen to place him in an institution after he had accidentally harmed Charlie, his younger brother. Because of that, Charlie (played by Cruise) never learns of his brother’s existence until after his father’s death. Charlie is surprised to learn that his father had left most of his fortune to a trust fund that paid for Raymond’s expenses. Determined to obtain a share of the money, Charlie entices Raymond out of the mental institution and takes him on a road trip to his home in California, where he intends to file a lawsuit for custody of his brother. The rest of the movie is a journey on many levels as Charlie begins to see Raymond not as an easily exploitable asset, but as a remarkable human being, and as the loving and lovable brother he has missed all his life.
The audience shares that journey thanks to Hoffman’s masterful performance. By the end of the movie we are still a bit awkward and uncomfortable around Raymond, but we no longer think of him as something less than ourselves. He is brilliant in his own way, far more capable with computations and connections than most of us could ever be. In an odd way he is charming, affectionate, and even adorable. Once we look beyond his peculiar mannerisms and grow accustomed to his unique forms of expression, we begin to see a person of great value. Indeed he has special needs that prevent him from functioning on his own, but we learn from Rain Man that Raymond Babbitt and others like him do have a place in society. One example of this was reported recently in The Times of Israel, in an article explaining how the Israel Defense Forces have recognized the special gift of persons with autism, and have found a way for them to make a valuable contribution to the defense of their nation. Yet even those who are not able to make such a contribution have value. They teach us about ourselves – what it means to be human. We are enriched when we get to know them.
Indeed, they are our neighbors, the very people we are to love as ourselves.
A strange thing happened to me a few weeks ago: I fell in love with an animal. It was a complete surprise, and my daughter’s fault. She and I went out for a Dad and Daughter date, the last part of which was visiting San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden. As we wandered over the paths, we made our way out of the garden and down toward the San Antonio Zoo not far away. Then we hard dogs barking, and much to our surprise realized that we were walking by a pet adoption center we did not know was there. Of course we had to go in, and once inside we had to see who was there. As we made our way to the room with the puppies, I was drawn to the very last enclosure where three pups were kept. Two of them were most playful and eager for attention, but the third showed no interest in us when we walked in the little room. In fact, she ducked under the little bed on which she had been laying. Thanks to my daughter the pup didn’t stay there long; she reached in and pulled her out so the two of us could get acquainted. That was when I knew I had met my dog. Without doing anything other than sitting still in my arms, this little dog crawled into my heart in a way no other animal has ever done. It did not take long before we decided to adopt, and now for the first time in my life I have a dog.
Little Blue, as we call her, has been with us less than a month. In that short time she has come to enjoy her new home, gaining confidence each day in herself and her new family. She is far from the timid, fearful little pup I first saw last month. Although she has much yet to learn, she is showing the signs of great affection, keen intelligence, and the herding instincts one would expect of a cattle dog. I have always enjoyed the company of animals, but Blue is helping me understand something very important: the health of our God’s creation depends on the interaction of human beings with animals.