We have “awareness” days, weeks, and months for just about everything now. I’ve never paid much attention to this phenomenon. I am feeling peeved about Autism Awareness Day however.
I’m not peeved because I’m against people with autism. I’m not peeved because I think autism is something that ought to be kept secret or hidden. I’m peeved because having a child with autism makes the notion of “awareness” seem practically a trivialization. We’ve lived with autism in the family for over twenty five years now. We knew the signs before we knew to call it autism. Having a child with autism impacts every area of life. Our other children and our life as a family are profoundly influenced by this reality. We can’t simply be aware for a day and then move on to the next cause du jour. It’s always there. It never goes away. We always have to take it into account.
What does our child think about it? She’s aware enough to know she doesn’t want it. She can’t escape it either. She doesn’t like her hypersensitivity to sounds and situations. She’d give up her autism in an instant if she could. Just ask her.
Some people who write on the intersection of disability and theology seem to downplay the notion of disability. No one is disabled – we’re all just differently-abled. Ok, sure. I can see that to a point. Still looks like disability to me. Still feels like disability to my daughter.
Some speak of the resurrection as a time of healing: healing from our sin and brokenness, healing of all our bodily ailments. But if the things we call disabilities aren’t really bad in any way, we shouldn’t look for eschatological healing from them. I’m not in that camp. I have a hope of healing for my daughter. She has a hope of healing. That hope is not accompanied by a lack of appreciation for what she has accomplished in life. She’s dedicated to nursing home ministry – with children and the elderly. Her tolerance for disability in others is infinitely higher than her tolerance for her own (yes, “infinitely” is an exaggeration, but not much). Just as I take my own impairments to be due to my immersion in the brokenness of creation, I can take her autism to be the same: I look for complete healing for both of us.
Perhaps I can try felix culpa thinking of a sort. Just as some look at the horrors of the Fall as opening the possibility of the Incarnation, I can look at our impairments and brokenness as opening the possibility of the healing grace of Jesus’ resurrection power. My glory is in the latter, not the former, however. I give thanks for my daughter. I give thanks for the power of God available to both of us. I don’t give thanks for autism, however.