The birth of a child can bring indescribable joy and eager anticipation to a couple, but what happens when time reveals that the child has an irreversible disability? What does the couple do, and what becomes of the child? How does God break through the disappointment to reveal himself in such a situation?
Mr. Michael: Journeying with My Special Son draws upon the difficult yet joyful road the author traveled raising a child with autism. The book takes the reader into her defiant struggle from despair to acceptance and fulfillment for her and her son.
The heartwarming story is written with the Church in mind, but everyone can benefit from reading it. With autism becoming more prevalent in the society today, Christian families are not exempt from being touched by this disability.
The book is intended to raise awareness in the church family, whose members can learn to be supportive of parents facing the reality of physical brokenness in the form of autism.
Excerpted from Mr. Michael: Journeying with My Special Son (2014) by Judith Nembhard
Today as more and more children are being diagnosed with disabilities, it is to be expected that some parents in our congregations will be affected. The few strategies that I have learned to apply may be helpful to you.
1. First of all, don’t fall apart.
Difficult and disappointing occurrences require a purposeful reaction. In no way can we deal with a bad situation if we react by going to pieces. We can’t think clearly and make wise decisions if we are an emotional basket case. My child needed to be guided through the many stages of life. I had to be emotionally strong to undertake the different steps necessary to give Michael a life. However, while you’re trying to be strong and reliant, don’t push your own feelings aside, pretending they don’t exist.
If you have someone you can discuss them with, do so. If you feel utterly distressed and need a counselor, find someone who can help you get control of your feelings so that you will be in a suitable condition to help your child.
2. Don’t develop a victim mentality.
I don’t think any of my friends or relatives can say I complained to them about my disappointment at having a special child. I knew God hadn’t singled me out for punishment. I must confess that at times I searched my life to find reasons why I was reaping what I had sown, and, indeed, I was able to detect a number of sins that could have warranted the Lord’s displeasure. . . .In my times of heart-searching, I didn’t blame God. . . . .He helped me understand that I live in a flawed world where bad things, undesirable things, do happen, and we have to learn to live with them, difficult though it may be to do so. Avoid feeling like a victim.
3. Don’t allow your child’s disability to shatter your self-esteem.
Yes, we would all like to have perfect babies that grow into outstanding adults that make us proud of their achievements, but why should we fold our existence into that of another?Remember that you are a person in your own right. Don’t stop being whole. . . .I didn’t put my plans for personal improvement on hold after Michael came into my life. I included him in them.
4. Try to have a semblance of adult life.
Bringing up a learning disabled child takes up a lot of time, so you might feel stifled having to spend so much time on a rudimentary level of thinking and living. Keep in mind that you are an adult, so find time for adult thinking and living. This can come through your choice of people to associate with, in your reading, and educational pursuits as well. Continue to grow and develop as a mature human being.
Dr. Judith Nembhard, a lifelong educator, has taught at all levels from grade school to university. She has published journal articles and a novel, Myra’s Calling. Her memoir, Mr. Michael: Journeying with My SpecialSon tells of her defiant and rewarding struggle to raise her son with autism, despite not knowing what his disability was. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This article was featured in Issue 42 – Autism: Fighting the Stigmas