“Max!” I said with the kind of enthusiasm I hoped would be contagious, “We are going to like this new doctor. He has a daughter with autism!”
I tried to mask my own nerves, wondering how we would get through the next-day’s appointment in the city. I watched Max for a reaction as he bounced in his seat and started eating his dinner in a style reminiscent of a wood-chipper. Sometimes dinner in our house is so active that I think our dining room chairs should be equipped with seat belts.
“Max,” I cried excitedly drawing his attention away from the gluten-free/grain-free/dairy-free creation that only resembles food by the fact that it is on a plate.
“Who else has autism?”
Max’s eyes brightened. “Max has autism!” he answered, sitting up a little taller in his chair.
“Yeah! That’s right!” I cheered. “So we like this doctor already!”
Our over-zealous dinner conversation hung in the air as I took my first bite of dinner. The word autism has been a part of the conversation in our home since Max was very young. But on this night, when I gave that word a purely positive spin with Max, I felt like a fraud. I’m not telling him the whole story. And in truth, I don’t know the whole story Max would tell me. What would he say about autism?
Thoughts of this journey and the bittersweet sound of the word swirled in my mind. None of this has been easy, yet God has made it beautiful. Autism has been the fertile ground in which God has grown my faith. And it is the ground from which God has brought love and joy and goodness to us, and to others. There have been victories so sweet that I can almost feel myself climbing the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, hands thrown up in the air like Rocky Balboa, shouting that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.
And then there are the other times…the not so pretty times…when autism collides with life and I fall face down in exhaustion, in weakness, breathing out one-word prayers that lift above me like a feather in the wind.
"Help." "Father." "Help."
And God hears.
But … Max. What would he say about autism?
“Max,” I said, placing my fork down on my plate and gently turning toward him. “Can you tell me something about autism?” The question lumped in my throat.
Max took another bite of food, as if he hadn’t heard me. I silently reprimanded myself for such an open-ended question. Max struggles with conversation, and especially with questions as big as this one.
I turned back to my dinner and pushed my food around knowing I could let that question float away unanswered. Maybe I didn’t really want to know the truth. What if he told me it was painful, or that he feels frustrated by the challenges, or even that he is simply tired of it all? Because I’m sure, at times, that is true. But God loves me enough to hear my words of pain and struggle when I turn to him. So Max deserves the same, for me to love him enough to hear his truth as well.
I leaned toward him and slid my hand along the table to gently, bravely, ask for his attention. Max is so handsome, almost 25 years old now, and a Christian; he belongs to God. He has touched more lives with is sweet spirit, and his uncontainable enthusiasm, than most anyone I know. I smiled as I caught a glimpse of his missing sideburn, the result of his overly efficient shaving experience the night before.
“Max,” I breathed, “Can you tell me two things you want someone to know about autism?”
He looked down and, without hesitation, spoke two simple words that left me speechless…