Even before my firstborn was diagnosed with autism in 2002, I knew he was unlike toddlers his own age. His differences were never embarrassing or heartbreaking to me, but were certainly challenging and confounding. I just wanted to know what was “wrong” with him so I could “fix” it. Oh, the naïveté of a new mother – the overconfidence in my abilities and my underappreciation for God’s sovereignty.
While my five-year-old son was in the throes of intensive in-home behavior therapy, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter was exhibiting some symptoms that caused the supervising clinical psychologist to ask, “When are we going to do an evaluation on her?”. Since my husband and I had spent half of her young life wondering what disorder we could attribute her developmental differences to, there was a certain relief when I realized her behaviors also were consistent with an autism spectrum disorder.
“I know how to do autism,” I thought to myself triumphantly.
But what was I really doing? The vast ocean of theories and speculations dotted with research and anecdotes regarding autism was waxing by the second, and every wave crashed on the shore with unsolicited advice. A mother could feel as if she were drowning.
Thankfully, a crisis of health prevented a crisis of faith. While my husband and I are devout Christians, we had lost sight of God’s goodness throughout the journey. We were so busy attempting to determine what was best for our children that we managed to miss the whisperings of God through the storms of our kids’ lives.
And this was shaping up to be quite a storm. After spending the better part of a Friday between a hospital emergency room and the pediatrician’s office because my son had abruptly lost his ability to walk, we were admitted to our local Children’s Hospital. Our son lay in a hospital bed with what was believed to be Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a sometimes-fatal auto-immune response. As I was packing a weekend bag, pleading with God to heal our son and give us the strength we needed to get through another diagnosis, He communicated to me that our children would go through some trials in this life. Yet my job was to be concerned not about their health or their happiness, but their holiness.
Somehow, this released me from the self-imposed burden of having to “fix” my children. After all, weren’t they made this way by their Creator? And wasn’t He able to prevent harm and cause cure if He wished? And did He not promise both me and my children that He would never leave or forsake us? I was free to accept them just the way they were, shifting my energy from trying to craft who they would become to demonstrating His great love for them.
This move toward acceptance found its way into my professional life as well. After spending seven years as a stay-at-home mom, another mother of a child with autism suggested to me that we make a film teaching elementary school students about autism and how they could be good friends. In a matter of months, we were on our way to incorporating a nonprofit organization, researching and developing curriculum, and producing our first video. First, we focused on creating autism awareness, teaching acceptance of differences and fostering empathy for students with autism in elementary school. Last year, we started taking steps to modify the message for middle school audiences.
Along the way, we’ve met dozens of families with children with autism. We’ve noticed that the families most cooperative with what we’re trying to accomplish are those who’ve accepted their children in the context of their diagnosis. Whether their faith played a role in that acceptance is beyond the scope of our interactions. But it is clear that children raised in a culture of acceptance are more likely to enjoy their peers’ acceptance.
So I urge all parents of children, whether those children are young or grown, to trust in God’s goodness and accept His creations just as they are. You will find the blessings He intended when you see them with His eyes. And as they sense your acceptance of them, they will be more understanding of His plan for them – and so will you.
About Chelsea Budde
Chelsea Budde has lived in Waukesha, Wis., since 2001 with her husband and their two children, ages 12 and nine. She graduated from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., in 1995 with a B.A., and worked in public relations for several years before leaving to care for her family.
Her son’s and daughter’s special needs have kept her engaged in the community as an advocate and a resource for other parents and professionals.
“Parenting children with autism, mood issues and medical challenges is nothing I would have hoped for, but has turned out to be greatest blessing of my life,” she says. Her faith in and reliance upon God have sustained her these years, as have the prayers and support of her many friends and family, both in southeast Wisconsin and throughout the country.
As president and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Good Friend, Inc., Chelsea has delivered Good Friend’s autism awareness-acceptance-empathy® message to more than 12,000 people since 2007, including through presentations at six major conferences. The script she wrote for Good Friend’s “Choosing To Be a GFF [Good Friend Forever]” middle school film contributed to its earning the 2011 Autism Society Media Excellence in Video, Print or News Award.