Today is the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day. According to the Light It Up Blue awareness- and fund-raising campaign:
Autism is a complex developmental disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are lifelong developmental disabilities which are characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication, repetitive interests, behaviours and sensory sensitivities. The word ‘spectrum’ is used to describe the wide range and severity of difficulties people with ASD experience.
Many people are affected by ASD—current estimates are about 1 in 100. However, research is still in its infancy; the disorder is multifaceted, and as a result it is often hard to diagnose.
Our family has a personal interest in all of this. One of own our children has been diagnosed with ASD. She has particular difficulty in processing sensory inputs (touch, taste, hearing, smell, etc.); as a result, she finds the physical and social world more difficult to navigate than most, and sometimes gets frightened and distressed by it. She needs extra help dealing with day to day activities. Like any family who lives with a person with a disability, our family is subject to challenges and limitations which can at times be frustrating for us all.
But we believe in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel message gives us a powerful means to navigate and deal with the sadness, the limitations and challenges that arise from our little girl’s ASD. Here are some examples:
The Bible teaches us that a person is not defined by their abilities, but by their relationships—particularly their relationship to God. We don’t think of our daughter fundamentally as “autistic”; rather she is made in God’s image, and is a child of God through Christ—who also has an autistic disorder. We can love her and relate to her and delight in her as she is; accept her abilities and disabilities as part of that, and work to help her to overcome or manage the challenges she faces.
The Bible teaches us that wrong things in this world, including disability, are just part of living in a fallen world. We don’t have to hide from this disability, or pretend that these special challenges are merely “differences”. We live in a world subject to God’s general judgment against human sin. That’s bad. We acknowledge that together. That helps.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus loved us so much that he died to pay for our sins: We don’t deserve his love yet we are loved anyway. Remembering the depths of our own forgiveness also helps us to be loving, forbearing, when we need to sacrifice (yet again) our own comfort for the sake of helping our beloved daughter and sister.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus rose from the dead, giving us the sure hope of a new creation where there is no death, decay, suffering or weeping. We all look forward to immortal bodies and minds that aren’t subject to sickness or disability. When we do suffer and watch our loved ones suffer, we don’t despair: it makes us long for that new creation even more. Our suffering is, in this way, a gift from God, making us more like Christ, lifting our longings away from this world, and pointing us to God’s gift of new creation in Christ.