In this past week our son Parker has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, except it’s not called Asperger’s any more. It’s called Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), except it won’t be called that for long. They’re changing it to Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) because, I assume, that Conditions are less offensive than Disorders. This diagnosis is not bad news for us. We’d assumed that he was autistic for a while now, and had been treating him appropriately. I imagine we’re not alone in being parents who were very relieved to hear that he has ASD, rather than the alternative (“We’re sorry Mr & Mrs Webb. He’s not autistic, he’s just really obnoxious.”).
It’s business as usual for the Webb family really, except that now we have access to various resources and courses that will help us be better parents for him and for his siblings, who struggle more than we do with managing their frustration at his seemingly irrational way of approaching life.
The reality is that no children are easy to raise, and each one should be treated uniquely anyway. In that regard, Parker is just like the rest of them. As difficult as it can be, I enjoy the variety I find in my own house – most of the time, anyway. Our home is a glorious circus; I alternate between being paralysed by laughter and grinding my teeth down to their stumps. I think that family life, like being part of any community, is one of God’s ways of giving us an insight into what it’s like for Him. Would Adam and Eve have been in such a rush to become like God if they had really known that it was less about exercising unlimited power and more about repeatedly having to tidy up after other people who acted like you didn’t exist?
Raising a child with ASD is a challenge, and it brings into the light all those failings that your other children didn’t manage to expose, but I think about the patient, generous way that God has raised me, and it helps.
A little while ago, my three-year old daughter told me that she wanted to write a letter to God. I wrote, while she dictated. It wasn’t a very long letter, more of a note, concerned primarily with finding out if God owned a) a cat and b) a space hopper. We put the letter in an envelope and that was that. Naturally, being me, I sensed a teaching opportunity, so I decided to write a reply.
Thank you for the letter that you wrote to me. I loved to receive it. I do not have a cat, but I do like cats. I love everything that I made. I do not have a space hopper, but I don’t need one at the moment. Perhaps if I do, I could borrow yours? I love you very much & thank you again for your letter.
Apart from the dubious theological statement that God likes cats, I thought it would be a nice moment for Imogen. I put it in an envelope, and a couple of days later ‘delivered’ it. Imogen was fascinated at first, but after I had read God’s reply to her she became quite frightened. I believe the correct phrase is ‘she freaked out’. My parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.
On reflection, it makes sense. God is very much a part of our family life, so Imogen is aware of Him, but she is only a child after all. She has never seen God, and is not explicitly conscious of Him working in her life. The transition from God being an abstract idea to a concrete reality that could interact and intervene was probably a bit too much for her at that moment. We all have a crisis point where we have to decide whether or not God is that real, and I probably brought it on a bit early…
Still, to be able to talk about God and to be willing to talk to Him, but to be surprised and terrified when He decides to talk back? I can understand fear as an initial response, but eventually we have to decide to either walk away or be all in. Hanging around the fringes, still afraid, doesn’t help anyone.
Ruth and I have five children, which is about six more than four children. It wasn’t such a big deal in Australia, where immigration was the only thing that offset the negative growth rate, but in the UK a large family makes life complicated. People react to our situation in a variety of ways. There are those who display shock or pity, and those who respond as though we’re breaking some unspoken rule.
It’s possible to view children as a burden; a drain on the resources of the planet. The doctor who helped deliver our fourth took me to one side after the event and suggested that we had enough children now. He told me that our carbon footprint was big enough. He had a point, but the cynical part of me sometimes wonders if what people really mean to say is “If you don’t stop having children I might have to change my habits as a consumer.” There are those who view children as a resource, potential or otherwise. If you follow the news you may be aware that China is softening it’s one child policy as a result of studies predicting that the country will face a workforce shortage in the future. Children, for me, are neither a burden nor a resource. They are an expression of hope.
If Ruth and I do our job well then we’ll contribute five more people to this earth, who will take the best of us and run with it. Hopefully their character and deeds will more than offset their environmental impact. We are now the parents of a teenager and, if my maths is right, we’ll have at least one teenager in the house for about the next fifteen years. Teenagers are, generally speaking, hard work to have around, but some days I look at Calvin and feel fit to burst with pride as I see the man that he is becoming. Here’s to the next fifteen years.