As written by Lindsay Criswell from her blog @Branch and Stone Studio
My son cannot usually answer open ended questions. He may not look you in the eye.
My son might come by your side, but then he may not be able to engage beyond that in conventional ways at times.
When he is with a group, he may seem in a distant place. Oftentimes, he seems to prefer the opposite corner of the room, or even a different floor of the house.
Though he may spend most of your visit away from where we are gathered, your relationship with him matters.
I know this because my son thanks God for each person in his life by name, every day when he prays. I always ask, because someday he may be able to answer, “How was your day?”
I know from his smile, when he gets out of school, that he had a great day. I give him the opportunity to answer without prompting, but when there is no answer, I say some names, and possible activities he might have done.
Some days my son mentions the people he saw and the things he accomplished. Other days, I have to patiently wait. Then at night, he tells God about his friends, his teachers, and the joys of the day when he prays.
My son loves to be “out and about” despite sensory challenges. He loves to explore, hear, touch, taste, and smell new things. He is a quiet, happy wanderer – a lover of animals, nature, aircraft, music, and good food.
My son doesn’t express his love for these things the same way as other people do, but I know he has a deep appreciation for so much. If I ask about his favorite things, he cannot say. But I know what they are, because he says so when he prays.
Looking from the outside in, you might think that my son is anxious. You might think he is never at ease hopping around, fleeing, covering his ears, and pacing. That’s how he displays in overwhelming environments, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying himself. Despite appearances, he is incredibly happy to be wherever he is more often than not.
My son has the most peaceful heart I have ever known. Even the things that are hard on his sensory processing, he is grateful to experience. Before his blue eyes close, he notes even the smallest moments that touch his soul when he prays.
He has hopes and dreams. He has a desire to learn and be a part of things. My son wants to fly airplanes, see animals in real life, visit with family more, play with friends, swim for hours, swing high, go to a cabin, hike, and so much more. Some things we do already. He is ready for more.
My son’s wants and desires are communicated some days. Other days they are trapped inside. “What do you need? What do you want?” are sometimes questions that are too infinite for a brain that functions like his to answer. But I find out what seems too vast to say in the moment, when he prays.
Questions that require factual answers are easy; open ended questions are hard. I believe his brain has to file through every possibility before he can answer open ended questions. Questions about preference or feelings are almost impossible, not because he doesn’t have them. He does. But because he experiences these things on such a heightened level, it is hard for him to put them into words.
My son is incredibly empathetic and intelligent, despite his lack of traditional communication. I don’t know these qualities about my son because he is gentle with animals. He could read before he was three, or because his ability to memorize is beyond measure. I know these things about my son because he shows me who he is on the deepest level, when he prays.
My son starts his prayers everyday with “Dear Lord, thank you for…” and then he continues with a list of people, places, and things for which he is thankful. He finishes with “in Jesus’ name Amen.” He doesn’t ask for things like I do. He is content and thankful. The smile on his face during his exchange with God says it all. Despite the adversity he faces daily, my son praises Him with a full and happy heart when he prays.
Communication, social, and sensory can be hard for my son. But he is not forgotten, and he is not alone. My son has a relationship with God. He hears God, and God hears him. They chat every day. Sure, I have prayed personally in front of my son. But I have never had to pull him into prayer the way I do other forms of communication. He has his own personal conversations with God, his best friend when he prays.
My “mom brain” is normally on overload by the end of the day with three small boys: two with more needs than most other children. I still get caught up too much in future thoughts and “what ifs.” My worries don’t outweigh my enjoyment with my son, but some days I allow them to steal more than they should.
The kid I worry about the most in worldly ways teaches me in ten minutes more than I have learned all day. He teaches me the world can value pretty silly and even awful stuff. An eternal perspective is more beautiful and complete than a worldly one. He brings my mind to a peaceful place to rest, when he prays.
Even though my son is amazing, I still flounder at times. I have heard and seen some horrible things while advocating for my son.
I get frustrated with the world.
I get frustrated with ignorance.
I get frustrated with hate.
I want to shout and fight. I want to call names. I want to push instead of give grace. I want to board us up; isolate us from the awful. I don’t want to share him with those who may do him harm. But all of these feelings melt away. My heart is changed, and I am humbled when he prays.
Charlie just turned six. He is Autistic. His prayers expose that his challenges and differences don’t matter much. What really matters, his soul, shines true. He is joyful, thankful, and perfectly made Charlie.
My son has a light to shine in a world that can be so dark. So, I listen, and I kneel beside him for strength. Then I can rise to the calling of being a remarkable child’s mother another day, because I am renewed when he prays.