I’m inclined to believe that autism is a gift. It is certainly something special that not every family gets to experience. When viewed from the outside autism may be considered to be a challenge. When viewed from the inside, autism is much more than that. A child with autism can be unique and unlike any other child we know.
Having a child on the autism spectrum gives to us the opportunity to obtain the gifts of understanding and patience. Autism gives to us a chance to be more than we might otherwise be as parents, grandparents, friends or family. With autism we have an opportunity to see something that can give us insight into ourselves. Autism gives us the opportunity to meet a challenge and to do so successfully.
A positive outlook is the key to meeting almost any challenge. We get to approach problem-solving from a unique perspective. We get to see challenges and outcomes that can be completely different from day-to-day. We must constantly be on our toes and use the very best of our abilities and insights. Autism gives us the chance to be something more than just ordinary.
A person with autism may view us in a unique and different context. He or she may see us as exceptionally important. We get the chance to be the focus of attention and the provider of enormous support. We get the chance to be significant and meaningful. We get the chance to make a special contribution in a unique and challenging environment. This chance is not given to everyone. Special accomplishment can be a part of every activity. Success can be a function of small steps towards very definable goals. Helping our children learn to communicate and progress socially can involve very unique learning scenarios. We can gain the deepest understanding of human emotions and interaction.
While being a parent offers up elements of challenge and opportunity whatever the context, the uniqueness of autism gets us thinking on a higher plane. We must listen more closely, we must see more clearly and we must love more devotedly. It is not just the child that must rise to the challenge; it is everyone around that child that must excel as well. The teachers must be special; the health care providers must be special. We must be special.
What a privilege it is to be exposed to all this. We are learning every day as the child learns. We are seeing performance and involvement and commitment that very few get to see. A child with autism is deeply precious. A teacher or a therapist who teaches a child is not an ordinary teacher or therapist. So too we must be extraordinary as parents and members of the extended family of caring people. We must be proud of what our children accomplish. We must be proud of the time and commitment that we have made to help make their lives fulfilling.
A few years ago I wondered what the next few pages and chapters of my life might be. I looked forward to many things. I thought of leisure, travel, time to relax and enjoy. I thought these were the gifts I would receive for a life of hard work. When we discovered that our oldest grandson had autism a whole new world of wonder opened to me. Suddenly, I had to learn about something unknown to me. I had to be open to adjustment of priorities. I had to become creative and resourceful. I had to reexamine and expand my skills. So as my grandson faced his challenges, I faced mine. Could I do it? Could I live up to his needs and expectations?
I found my answer in his eyes. I found that the dreams I had for him would need to be my dreams as well. I found that I had a new expectation of myself. I met new people, I learned new skills. I found I had been given a gift. Oh no, not a talent or some special skill seen in me. I had him. He was my gift. He invigorated me. He inspired me. He gave new purpose to everything I did. I get to share in his accomplishments. I get to see the steps he takes towards fulfillment and happiness. His joys and triumphs mean as much to me as they do to him.
Now, when I wake up and when I go to sleep, I think about what we can teach him and what we can learn together. We do many wonderful things together. Sure, every once in a while we don’t get the perfect outcome. That has deepened the gift of compassion and understanding that I have gotten from him. Those moments have re-energized my patience and my persistence. His goals have become my goals. In many ways he has given me a future I otherwise would never have had were it not for the gift of autism.
Steven Josias has been a practicing Attorney in Florida for over forty years. Originally from Massapequa, New York, he earned his B.A. in History at The Citadel and his J.D. from The University of Notre Dame. He served in The U.S. Army and was a Company Commander and Battalion Operations Officer before ending his service in The National Guard and Reserves. In 1974 he founded his Law Firm in Ft. Lauderdale with specialties in Tax, Real Property and Governmental Law. After retiring from active practice he continues to serve as Of Counsel to the firm. He has represented over fifty governmental agencies at the Local, State and Federal level. He has served as Special Counsel to U.S. Senator Bob Graham, President of the Museum of Discovery and Science, and as a member of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida. Josias is also a Certified Mediator and Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem for children in State supervised foster care. His other civic activities include service on numerous National and State Bar Committees. He was Chairman of The Board of a four Hospital Health Care System and served on that Board for eight years. Josias is also a licensed pilot. He and his wife of forty three years, Marlene, have two children and three grand-children. His oldest grandson was diagnosed with autism at age two.
This article was featured in Issue 28 – Sharing the Love