People like to be right. To win. I like to be right. I LOVE winning. This is especially important in an argument with my husband – or as some describe it, a discussion between two people which I am winning. Or, as our recent New Year’s Eve party at church challenged, winning is also especially important in a match in ping-pong against self-proclaimed experts. Most, I beat. Others, well, I was just tired when we played, so I let them get ahead of me a bit, and I just didn’t have the energy to catch up before the game ended in their favor. In any case, I don’t know many people who claim the title “Loser” before a game begins because they don’t want to win. Maybe because they think they will lose, or want to save face in case of losing, but not because they want to lose. We all want to win.
Enter power struggle between parent and child with autism. Sam’s favorite new phrase is, “Yes! I’m RIGHT!” I suppose I should be thankful that he is generalizing and able to apply that phrase to more than one situation and in exchanges with any person. Except that it frustrates other people – specifically his brothers – which in turn elevates his frustration and his volume level. Do you know why? Because his brothers want to win too! It’s an epic battle, and more and more of them are ensuing, taking over our home bit by bit. All for the sake of validation of his right-ness.
At his IEP meeting yesterday, the principal was telling how he cracked her up in class last week. She popped in to visit, and there was a small group of kids in one corner who were supposed to making “-at” words with magnetic letters. Words like, “cat”, “bat”, “sat”, etc. And there sat Samuel, having proudly created his word: “earthqwake“. The principal tried to gently direct Sam to the correct spelling with a “u”. He adamantly stood firm by his choice (which was a completely logical choice since the “w” fits in perfectly if you sound it out) and continued to perseverate on how right he was, insisting his “w” was correct. So she suggested getting out the dictionary to look it up. They found the word, and she showed him that unfortunately, he was wrong. I expected to hear he suffered a major meltdown. But instead, he flippantly said, “Oh. Ok.” and willingly changed the “w” to a “u”.
At home, he is not so easy to persuade. He argues with his brother about the correct terms for the Cars 2 vehicles – “It’s not a tire, it’s a rim. I’m RIGHT!” He argues with me about 3+3+2 = 6 until I can show him with fingers or on paper the answer is actually, in fact, 8. But he’s not happy about it. It pretty much boils down to the need to see it to believe it. If you can prove it to him in a tangible or physical way, he’ll believe it. Google is our best friend in some circumstances (because if it’s on Google, it MUST be right, right?), and Dictionary.com, and the calculator.
But this has far more extensive effects than simply learning how to cope with occasionally being wrong and seeking validation through yelling his point over and over. As a Christian parent, I can’t just look at his behavior and determine the best way to change it to satisfy expectations because the behavior is nothing more than a symptom of the heart’s condition, which is sinful. I have the responsibility of discovering the issue of the heart – the heart of the heart, if you will, and finding and giving a solution for that problem. In general, I know the heart’s issue is sin. And it manifests itself in a thousand ways, one of which is selfishness, blazenly showing itself in the need to be right and the need to be physically proven wrong instead of accepting it as fact without any real perceived basis for being wrong, other than the fact that the accusing person wants to be right.
Going a step further than figuring out behavior and heart modification, it can be extremely difficult to teach my son about the existence of a non-verbal, invisible God, and then in what must be laughable to him go to great lengths in worshipping this God. For a long time, Sam distressingly questioned, “Does God talk?” Explaining that He “talks” to us in the Bible because it’s God’s Word that He wrote through other people, even in a way a 6 year old understands, is virutally impossible. He used to say he is afraid of God because he can’t hear Him. To Sam, that’s how he could be shown God exists – if God talked out loud. He knows Jesus is a real person, but He’s not physically, tangibly present with us, and abstracts are difficult concepts for autistics. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” and ask him, “Do you know Jesus loves you?” He would reply, “I don’t want Him to love me….. because I can’t see or hear Him.” He would even yell at us, “NOOO!!! Jesus CAN’T love me!!!”
The thing about autism is that it constantly surprises us. For a disorder of which science claims its “victims” (though I don’t prefer that terminology, but for lack of a better word…) can only think concretely and not in the abstract world, I believe that there is no human condition that cannot be overcome by the power of our great Creator God, no disorder that is so great that it will not succumb to His overwhelming victory over that condition or disorder when God commands it to yield. Autism is no exception to the pervasive healing of the Lord God.
I don’t remember exactly when this happened, but it was sometime this past year. Sam would buck against family devotions, against praying, against singing in church or singing at home, and refused to be loved by God (or so he thought) and refused to say he loved Jesus or God either. But at some point, there was a change of heart that had nothing to do with ABA therapy. Somewhere along the way, he stopped refusing to participate in family devotions and singing and even stopped refusing to hear my repetitive words that God made him and loved him very much. One night, I asked him if he was still afraid of God. He said no. When I asked him why, I got the best response: “Because I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I just want to love Him now.”
Maybe God showed up in a dream to him, or God was proven real and true and right in some magical way to my son. Doubtful. Not completely outside the realm of possibility, but I just don’t think that’s how it worked – especially since he gave no details of why he now believes. He just does – because he chose to (although I know better, that if he chose to believe, it wasn’t of his own volition, but of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart). I don’t know if this is merely assent to believing in the God of the Bible as we have taught him, or if his heart has been affected and touched by the Holy Spirit in a more profound way that has truly drawn Samuel to Himself in true conversion and salvation. We may not know exactly what this change of heart indicates until he is older and better able to communicate about it. But either way, autism has lost, and God has won in a decidedly awesome victory in Sam’s heart.