Saturday my husband sort of slipped into our conversation that he would be going to church on Sunday. He would be speaking about his Wounded Warrior retreat he went on the weekend before and he also wanted to check out the church. He also asked if I would join. I sort of haphazardly replied with a sure and carried on with our conversation.
Church — a word that hadn’t been a huge part of my vocabulary since graduating from a Catholic High School in ’98. It popped up a few times after my first two children were born but nothing ever came to fruition on it and I sort of let it just go. In 2014 I moved to what is affectionately known as the Bible Belt or West Texas. About 90% of my friends attend church but after the birth of H. I really stopped even trying to think that Sunday service was going to happen. I also started to feel conflicted on what I wanted to do so I just let the whole topic drop completely.
When we got our autism and sensory diagnosis two years ago, I decided to try and keep it simple. My friends around me all offered to open their church homes to my family, but honestly, the thought of schlepping my special needs child to a church service was about as much fun as walking across hot coals barefoot. I already had it set in my mind this would end poorly. He would freak out in the nursery so they would kick him out. I would try to keep us with him during the service and, if he became disruptive, I would deal with the angry eyes of all those in the congregation. None of these outcomes sounded remotely appealing to me, so I politely declined offers and said that church would just be something we might not do for a long while.
Sunday morning comes and honestly I am trying to talk myself out of this. H. has never been to church and I don’t know any of these people, and while yes, it’s the house of God and they shouldn’t judge, I sort of felt that the judging would come harsher because this is a place of worship and my child could wreck this for them. I literally tuned the morning out because I was trying to mentally prepare myself for this new endeavor. Normally I would prep H. for a new situation. I selfishly prepped myself instead and forgot about the important factor in all of this. To this point I don’t even think I had made mention of what we would be doing. Maybe looking back I didn’t prep him because I had no idea what the church setting would be like.
We pulled up to the church and I sort of stalled. I wasn’t ready myself to walk through this unfamiliar territory. I suddenly became hyper-focused on H. I did what I could to slow down time. I walked in the door clutching H. close. I am trying to protect him. From what, I have no idea, because it’s church and seriously who is going to hurt him? Chris walks in and takes a seat. I am far from ready to take that step myself so I opt to wait out in the hall. H. is growing anxious or maybe it’s me. I see a nursery, however the lights are off and I don’t want to barge in. I draw in a deep breath and walk through the doors. The setup is ideal. There are no typical pews, they are folding chairs. Chris introduces me to a friend of his who set him up to go on the retreat. His wife had worked at the hospital that we have taken H. to and she has actually encountered him before. We took our seats and gave H. his trucks and some sensory items. He lay down on the floor and started to scoot back under the seats. This is what he does in new situations. At this point as long as he wasn’t distracting anyone or taking his clothes off I am good with it.
I started using H. as my security blanket. He wanted to sit in our lap so I took out his brush and started brushing his arms. He is relaxing but I just can’t. I know there were so many articles and stories shared from my autism friends and support groups I just never felt the need to read them because I never figured I would be here to need them. At this point I am winging it. I am racing with thought and suddenly I look down and see he is crashed out in my arms. I breathe. I let out a sigh of relief that suddenly I know he won’t bother anyone and everyone here can enjoy the sermon without the possible distraction of my child. The biggest fear was H. being such a disruption in a place we had never been and that first impression not being the one we wanted. He slept; he slept a good 75% of the service. I was good with that, far better than I had given him credit for.
I feel bad that I didn’t even give my full attention to the sermon given. Honestly, I couldn’t recall anything minus maybe a few announcements and them calling the children to take them to their class. I feel horrible I haven’t given either one of us credit. I am so focused on “the what could go wrongs” or the “hope they don’t happens” that I lost sight of the reason I was there. I was there to share in the experience that my husband had when he went on the retreat a week ago. I was so wrapped up in my fears that I was deflecting. I didn’t see my child for whom he could have been during that service I was so anxious I was so busy preventing things I didn’t let him experience the situation for what it could have been for him. Minus the trip to the small nursery to keep him quiet, it went very well. That nursery, however, made me feel insecure all over again. It was unoccupied. The children were either sitting in the service or old enough to go enjoy the children’s class. There was one other child in there but her mom was preoccupied in ensuring the horses that were tied up outside stayed put. I didn’t take into consideration they might not have had a worker for the nursery. I saw it as a sign, some stupid sign that I read too far into.
As they served communion, I gathered up H.’s things we brought to the room and had him sit with me. I believe at this point Chris had caught on and was a bit more insistent on holding H.. I could sense he wanted me to participate. I am not there yet. H. maybe I am not. After all I am still so busy projecting my fears my anxiety onto my child that I can’t see past that he might have actually handled a huge routine change, AND new place with minimal interruption. I am not giving him enough credit. He deserves it. I have to stop being so reluctant to try new things with him for fear of it not going the way it should. I can’t keep sheltering him and using my fears of being judged and or rejected to keep him from experiencing hurt. He is growing and changing. All the tools we have been given to help him are working. I just need to let them prove their work instead of dealing with the possible failure. However, I need to stop making my fears his fears.
Jamie Thomas was born in Garland, TX and currently resides in Abilene with her husband of five years, Chris, and her four children Sean (15) Hannah (13) Ella Grace (10) and Hunter (4). Her two youngest children are on the autism spectrum and are higher functioning. She is working on her Bachelors from Western Governs University in Special Education and currently is a Special Education Aide in the autism classroom at Cooper High School. Her passion is children.
This article was featured in Issue 36 – Managing School Stressors