My son, Sam, always best handles instructions or requests of him if he feels he has a good, solid understanding of what's going on. Not just the nuts and bolts of the situation, but most importantly, the reason for it. If we ask or tell him to do something, one of his first responses is usually, "Why?" This simple question can be enough to immediately turn up the frustration dial on my emotions amp.
When I was growing up, if I was told or asked to do something by my parents or teachers, asking "Why?" was an exercise in futility. The answer, even if accompanied by an actual reason, usually involved the words, "Because I said so." Not an uncommon answer, and perfectly reasonable from a parent's perspective. Sometimes, asking "Why?" was heard as a challenge, rather than an honest request to understand. It usually meant, "Why do I have to do it?" Asking for a reason why I should do what I was being told, or why I should comply with a request was simply viewed as disrespectful. It implied that I, as a child, should be able to decide if my parent's request or imperative was worthy of my time, and that I should have to agree to their reasons before being obedient. So when I tell my son to do something, or worse, ask him to do please do something, and his response is, "Why?" my respect radar goes off and red flags are thrown.
We have learned that it is better to gently tell Sam to do what we want him to do, rather than ask. Because as a person with autism who is very literal, asking him if he would or could do something means we are giving him a choice that he has the right to refuse. Otherwise, why would we ask? Why wouldn't we just tell him what to do if he didn't really have a choice? We've found ourselves drowning in that pickle jar one too many times.
Parent: "Sam, will you please take out the trash?"
S: "No, I don't want to right now."
Parent: "Sam, your job is to take the trash out, and you need to follow my directions."
S: "But you asked me. If you ask 'will I,' and I don't want to, then I can just say no."
Parent: "I'm not really asking. You need to take the trash out."
S: "Then why did you ask? Asking means I can say yes or no."
Parent: "Okay, I'm not asking this time. I'm telling you right now that you have to take the trash out."
S: "Okay, okay. Why didn't you just say that the first time?!"
Parent: Face palm and deep sighs.
Needless to say, we don't ask him to do anything anymore. We just tell him. Only now we have a new problem. Telling him what to do now receives the response, "Why?" Sometimes it's because he's asking why does he have to be the one to do what we're asking, but more often than not, he's asking because he honestly does not understand the reason.
He struggles with inferencing, implications, and unwritten rules of social and family norms.
He doesn't understand the why of what we tell him when we instruct him, and he gets incredibly upset, to the point of having a meltdown, when he is refused an explanation or given reasons for why we are instructing him. It complicates matters further if we do attempt to give a simple explanation, because it's never enough. He needs to ask more questions. If he doesn't agree with our reasoning, he still bucks against it. He has it in his head that not only must he fully understand everything, but that he must also agree with it before complying. Of course, this causes issues as we are trying to raise him to be obedient and respectful. We constantly walk a very thin line with him regarding our expectations of him, feeling confident that he can obey us when we give him instructions, but still respecting the struggles he has as a function of autism.
Recently, Sam experienced a full-blown meltdown as a result of not understanding directions by a leader, and then not agreeing with the explanation that he was given. He wouldn't let it go, but he also would not comply. Refusing to listen, obey, and an inability or refusal to agree with his youth pastor's seemingly simple request led him to a meltdown in the worst way in the parking lot of church with his dad. It wasn't for lack of trying on the youth pastor's part. For Sam, it just wasn't good enough for him to move forward. In major meltdowns like this one, he often ends up in a phase of self-deprecation.
As he began to calm down a bit from his anger and went into a more sad state, he was crying and asked Kyle (his dad) why God gave him autism. He hates that he struggles so much, and it's hard to watch him recognize his own struggles, because it makes him angry. He wants to know why God gave him autism. Why does it have to be so hard for him? Why can't he just obey without arguing?
What's harder still is not being able to give him an answer. At least, not a reason that's good enough for him to accept.
The answer he struggles with the most to his question of "Why?" is if we try telling him, "Because I said so." To him, that's not a reason. It's not good enough. It doesn't make any sense. Don't we know what our own reasons are? Why can't we just tell him what they are? And it's not that we don't know what our reasoning is. But a lot of times, it's hard to put it all into words. I can't wrap it all up in one little sentence. A lot of times, there are a lot of reasons "why" but it's just hard to explain all of them. Not that he'd agree with us even if we told him.
When I heard him ask the same question to me later, "Why did God give me autism?" I knew the answer I was about to give him wasn't going to be enough.
I said, "Sam, I don't know why God gave you autism. I have no idea. But I know that somehow, it's supposed to be good, and it's supposed to give Him glory. I don't know how. I don't know why. I only know it's because He is God, and we are not." And that's kind of the same answer we so often give our children: "Because I said so."
It's the answer God gave to Job when he asked God why. God could have given him the answers. Just like how we feel sometimes, it's multi-faceted and difficult to explain. But can you imagine that conversation?
"Well, Job, see, Satan came to Me and kind of bet me that if he did terrible things to you, you would curse Me and turn against Me. But because I know you love me, and because I love you and I am the one who gives you your strength, I told him that he could test you."
"Why, God? Why did he HAVE to test me? If you already knew my response, why did you allow this? Why did I have to lose literally everything I have and love? Why do I have to experience the unfathomable pain of these boils on my body?"
"Because I Am who I Am." Or, in other words, "Because I said so."
Because when the I Am says, "Because I said so," the conversation is over.
It's actually how I ended the conversation with my son when he needed to know why he should have done what his youth pastor had asked him to do when he didn't understand or agree with the reasons he was given.
I explained to Sam that God gives instructions to us in the Bible, and we do what God tells us to do, because He is God, and we are not. I told him that God expects children to obey their parents, their teachers, and church leaders. He expects adults to obey leaders too, not just kids. But that's what Scripture teaches us. It doesn't matter if we understand it to the fullest extent. Sam knows he can trust us, and he can trust his youth pastor, and when he's given simple instructions, he must obey them because in obeying us as parents, and his church leaders, he is obeying God. We don't always like it when we have to submit to others.
We don't always like it when we don't understand completely or agree. Whether he likes it or not, he still has to do what's right—because God says so. When it comes down to it, we don't always get to have all the reasons for something. The world is not going to always explain every little thing to him. His boss will expect him to follow directions without being badgered to death about it. The government will expect him to follow the law even if he doesn't like it. And sometimes, it's simply because that's the way it is.
Just like we struggle with our kids in these ways, it is a daily reminder of how I fight against God sometimes. I cry out for answers. Why DID He give my child autism? Why DOES he have to fight so hard every day for things so many people take for granted? And just as I have given Sam the answer, "Because I said so," I remind myself my heavenly Father does the same with me. I must accept His answer; because He is God, and I am not. He doesn't want to spite me, or spurn me to rebellion. He simply wants for me to trust Him fully. Because if I am fully trusting God, I don't need to know why. Should God choose not to give me an answer other than "because I said so," that answer must necessarily be good enough.
Because when the Great I Am says so, the conversation is over.