From Autistic to Awesome: A Dad’s Spiritual Experience..
It was early on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, when there was a knock on my bedroom door and a joyful-noisy-falsetto voice was singing,
“This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made”.
“Do you know why it is going to be a good day Daddy? Because Lord Jesus made this day". "Don’t you say Amen?”.
“Joshua it is still dark, what time is it?”
He insisted, "Aren’t you going to say Amen?”
Joshua was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD as a little boy. Today, now in his twenties, he works as an artist; painting the most colourful acrylic paintings.
"Daddy you still didn’t say, 'and everybody says Amen!'”
I mumbled something that sounded like "amen".
Joshua is a morning person. He put the steaming coffee next to my bed and without looking, I knew there will be two rusks neatly displayed on the small plate that he always serves with coffee. I was still struggling to get my eyes open (it is after all Saturday) and just drink the coffee.
If I delay drinking this coffee, he will test the coffee after a while and just ask:
“Daddy, shall I warm it up for you for twenty or thirty seconds?” Always numbers and colours.
He sat next to me on the bed and it always amazes me how he can drink such hot coffee. Then he laid down on the bed, made himself more comfortable, stretched out his legs and the next moment he was fast asleep.
I was tempted to wake him up to warm up the coffee for twenty seconds.
But then I took my laptop and started typing …and I was lost in my own thoughts ...
thinking back to the day of Joshua’s birth. What a beautiful little baby boy. Perfectly made with ten fingers and ten toes. So beautiful and Psalm 139 sprung to my mind:
1 Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
2 You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.
3 -4 You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
13 You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside
and my intricate outside,
and wove them all together in my mother’s womb.
14 I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!
Everything you do is marvellously breath taking.
It simply amazes me to think about it!
How thoroughly you know me, Lord!
15 You even formed every bone in my body
when you created me in the secret place;
carefully, skill fully you shaped me from nothing to something.
16 You saw who you created me to be before I became me!
Before I’d ever seen the light of day,
the number of days you planned for me
were already recorded in your book.
There were some things in his behaviour that concerned us and we had him tested at a
very young age. Joshua was diagnosed with Autism.
Initially, denial and then fear was overwhelming. I was so worried about the way forward. What if autism was going to prevent me from being a good dad? I was worried about whether I was going to be able to connect with him on a father/son level without me or him ever being overwhelmed.
Nothing had prepared our family for this. Each member of the family has a story and
testimony, but today is my story about my journey with our son.
I took the time to search for information by dads about the Autism spectrum, of which
there hardly were any. So, I just did a lot of reading about life on the spectrum from
the views of others. I read studies and watched videos to try to better understand Autism and then I took an approach to really look at the way Autism affects me. This I thought would help me gain control and I thought the more I knew about Autism from different aspects, the easier it would be for me to control my mind and thought process when it came to being a dad for Joshua.
My research helped very little, and at the end (like always) I would go to my room,
closed the door and poured out my heart at the feet of the One who knows the best,
all the while begging for guidance.
Life has changed drastically since the beginning. Sometimes I panicked, but then music has always played a spiritual and positive role in my life, especially the old hymns that never lost their power. I would go for a ride on my bicycle singing “Leave it there, take your burdens to the Lord and leave it there” and many other gospel songs.
Joshua was sitting on his bike seat behind me; clapping hands and revelling in his own world and so was the daddy… He looked so cute; so normal with his little helmet on his head, and we would ride endlessly. Joshua was always looking at the wheels. He was totally obsessed with wheels that were turning.
We joined a support group and although there were some common ground, the only
real peace and comfort was at the feet of Jesus, asking Him to help me to understand my son.
One particular night, while on my knees at my bedside praying to Abba Father, I fell
asleep and dreamed. I was dreaming about a dozen little boys, looking exactly the same as Joshua. Some of them very clever, some of them were very energetic and sporty. But I panicked as I couldn’t find that special boy making small circles with his hands and I cried out loud to our Lord Jesus, help me to find my little boy. I pushed all these perfect boys aside and there he was; on his own. I woke up crying; crying healing tears. God washed my eyes with tears so I could see, and I thank God for that moment of acceptance.
I wanted my son to not be afraid to love, not to be afraid of being hurt, and understand the power that a hug can have to a friend who is in a dark place. I planned with Gods help to be transparent with my son as he grows, not only limited to autism but about the road of life and the mistakes and experiences that I’ve gone through in the hopes that it might address a situation that he might one day encounter.
Raising Joshua really became a family effort, and we were, and still are, so proud of each new venture that Joshua bravely embraced despite his mental disability. Somebody once asked me if I want him to be healed and I said why? He is not sick!
My only job as a dad is to provide the building blocks and teach him the lessons of
life and my God will do the rest. He will gently lead this child (young man today)
down a path to be a great human being. Joshua showers us with love and he is his
own person in Christ the Lord.
After twenty eight years of being on this journey with our son, I still have moments when I cry out to God for guidance and He has never failed me yet. In those dark moments, I would listen to Jason Hague's poem “A Reflection of Aching Joy”, which he wrote for his autistic son, Jack. His words resonate deeply with me.
"Because you are not a disorder, my son,
Not a blue puzzle piece
On a clinical spectrum.
But neither are you normal,
You're a piece of God's own daydreams
A reflection of aching joy.
No, you're not normal.
You are… beloved."
Jason Hague - A Reflection of Aching Joy
Those moments of anguish are only a tiny fragment measured against the love and
joy we experience raising Joshua, and we stand amazed at his pure heart and the
joy that he brings to everybody he is getting in touch with. The grief of letting go of "my dreams for him" has long since been replaced with an acute awareness of the small miracles that happen every day. Letting go of those dreams does not mean losing hope.
Joshua has grown up to be such a loving, friendly and not-too-difficult young man.
He is very verbal and sometimes when it is difficult to express his feelings in words,
he communicates through his paintings. He is so proud of the paintings he creates.
Acceptance did not come overnight, but I learnt to cherish the time I spend with my
son in spite of the heartbreak we faced in the past while trying to help him.
Once I realised that grace is found in moments my son fully enjoys, and I get to
witness it a lot. I remember with fondness of the series of road trips undertaken with Joshua — to bond with our boy and teach him about Jesus’ love.
He frequently tells us that he is a happy man. One day I asked him, "why are you happy?" and he said to me, “because Jesus loves me and He also loves numbers like me Daddy “
“Are you happy now?
“I’d say so,” he said. “My kind of happy.”
“But you don’t have many friends.”
“That’s the problem,” Joshua said. His tone was matter-of-fact, not accusatory or defensive. “But I am still happy with the pictures in my mind “
“Are you happy in your picture?”
“Most of the time, yes,” he said. “Are you always happy in yours?”
“No, my son, not always.”
“Same with me.”
“Joshua, why are you always asking the same questions?”
“Because you don’t give me the right answer”.
“Now what should the answer be?”
“I don’t know Daddy, that is why I am asking you”
Joshua, a very nice young man with all the smart questions. That’s my son. He
is not a boy anymore, but in a way he will always by my boy. He’s funny and
charming and sweet and blessed with extraordinary intellect that he’ll learn to
harness—even if he does so in ways that defy my dreams for him. I still need
to learn to deal with those expectations.
I love my son—not despite of his autism, but because of it.
I often wonder what makes Joshua and other people with Asperger’s/ Autism syndrome so unique and also makes them a model for the rest of us? Their hyper-literal mindsets make
honesty as much a part of their nature as breathing. Joshua may be one of the most caring people I know.
My constant prayer is: “God help me to be worthy of Joshua and let me be more like him: Create in me a clean heart oh God and a pure mind.”
Through it all, God has been with us and I give Him all the Glory and Praise.
I close with one of the funniest moments: On a Sunday morning on our way to church, I complained to Joshua, about the state of our roads and he, not taking too much notice of me as he was playing with his calculator, (adding numbers and memorising huge numbers in their trillions), made the following remark:
“We still have roads; and daddy you will be good at missing these potholes”.
“Because, you and I never get the ball in the hole when we play putt-putt. You
are so smart at missing the holes”.
Back to the present, Joshua is stirring and wakes up.
He looks over my shoulder to the cold cup of coffee next to my bed.
“You didn’t drink your coffee Daddy, shall I warm it up for you; Twenty or thirty
“Thanks Joshua, you can warm it up for me in the microwave for 50 seconds”
I closed my laptop.