Every year on April 2, our family celebrates World Autism Awareness Day—mainly because we are blessed with a 13-year-old son who has autism. Raising Jackson has been a long road of learning, accepting, appreciating, and everything you would assume when life doesn’t go as you had expected. As part of our celebration, for the past few years, I have posted on our social media that we are a part of the autism family because of our son and all that he means to us. Usually I start my World Autism Awareness post by saying, “Today we are blue (as in the recognized color for World Autism Day), but we aren’t sad.” But one day, that was not a completely honest statement. On that day, I was sad—and mad, and annoyed, and more than anything I hurt for Jackson and how difficult his journey is sometimes.
I have been a youth pastor for 27 years, and, though I am no parental expert, I have spent my fair share of time with teenagers. The job comes with a few occupational hazards. One is a steady stream of pizza always being available. Another is knowing the really good qualities about students as well as what can potentially go wrong. Our son’s first year in junior high has exposed him to a world that isn’t nearly as kind as the elementary school he came from. Like I said, I knew it was coming, but I’m never prepared for my kids to suffer. Not everyone who comes in contact fully “gets” Jackson, and he has typically struggled socially with his peers. That has been compensated by the fact that his elementary school community knew him and knew how to support him. The junior high world is bigger and more unknown. Kids have said things to Jackson that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. I feel powerless, and, ultimately, I hurt for my son- because I can’t fight every battle for him, especially as he grows into adulthood.
And yet, in my pain, I watch him shake himself off, get back up, and fight again. He fights with kindness. He fights with grace. He fights with a level of bravery I can’t always muster. It is part of what’s so beautiful about him and how autism plays out in his life. He doesn’t hold a grudge for long! So, on that day, April 2 and beyond, I too started to fight. I fought to celebrate my son for showing me how to live in a world that is sometimes cruel. He finds the beauty and hope so my celebration deepens daily. I am reminded that not everyone is the same.
And that’s good. I celebrate because 1 out of every 68 children are on the autism spectrum and they see the world in a way that most people can’t. God gave them to us as a gift, and we live in a broken world that gets to learn from them—if we take the time to.