What I learned about myself, life and God from my son on the Autistic Spectrum: Part 3

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(deviantart.com)

Autism by 1 footonthedawn(deviantart.com)

5. We often value people for very superficial reasons part 1: There are a whole set of criteria that people are judged by constantly by those around them including, but not limited to: physical appearance and dress, weight, proportions, muscle tone, skin coloration, the manner in which a person carries themselves, appropriate social interactions and even smell plays into game of subconscious evaluation of others based on appearance. In less formal language we quickly determine who is cool and who is not within a group of peers, which people are noticed for being popular, who are the geeks, who are the outcast and who are the invisible members of a group. One of the gifts of learning to see things through my son’s eyes is that none of these things matter to him, he would say that he honestly doesn’t care about other’s evaluation of him even though he is entering an age where these things are very important to his peers. I found it interesting that his first real friend at his current school is another student who is also very smart but has Cerebral Palsy, and so is also unable to interact in the same manner as many of their peers. In fact Aren finds most of the social games played by his classmates as not only distracting but annoying. To me one of the gifts of the Christian tradition is the practice of communion or the Lord’s Supper where we gather around the table with others who have been drawn to be a part of the fellowship we share in Christ and around the table none of the typical valuations matter. All come on an equal footing to share in the foretaste of the feast that God promises us God’s kingdom. In the community I serve we have a number of people who may not rank very high on the social ladder for many of the reasons listed above and yet they are all people of value in the body of Christ.

6. We often judge people for very superficial reasons part 2: I am a very smart, tough and capable person and throughout my experience in schooling, the army and even within the church I learned quickly to judge a person based upon how competent they were. Competence looks like different things in different environments but this reduces a person’s worth to their functionality. My son is a very smart and capable young man but in a world that judges by physical attraction and social interaction he is at a disadvantage, on the other hand he tends to view the world even more harshly in terms of functionality than I ever did. There may be ways in which we use metrics to measure a person’s competence at a skill or a task, this is the whole world of testing in both the academic and business world, but we should never confuse competence with value. People have value regardless of their level of competence or physical or social traits. Within the world of competence also falls status, wealth, education, political power and fame which we also learn increase the value of a person in our eyes, yet this is precisely the type of valuation that Christians should be immune to (but apparently even the early church struggled with this due to the frequency it is addressed in the letters within the New Testament). I have on my wall a plaque that Nate Frambach, my advisor in seminary, gave me upon my graduation which states, “Neil Eric White, you are a baptized child of God, whatever else you are remember you are that for that is the basis of all that you are.” My valuation comes not from my own personal competence, wealth, power, physical appearance, social prowess or any other measure-it is a gift from God that I am valued (and not only me, and I would argue not only Christians).

7. Just because someone doesn’t seem to be paying attention doesn’t mean they aren’t listening and watching what you are doing. Now this applies to people regardless, but I mention it because in learning to see the world through my son’s eyes I realized that not everyone has to look to pay attention. I was always taught (and yes, I realize this is a very masculine way of approaching things) to look a person in the eye when they talk to you and by extension that if a person did not look at you they weren’t paying attention. The eyes for most of us take in a lot of the information that we interpret in our brains and in a world where eye contact is not only a symbol of paying attention but at times a symbol of confidence (in contrast not looking a person in the eye was perceived as either dishonesty or lack of trust in one’s ability). Most autistic people do not like to make direct eye contact, it is uncomfortable for them, and they may be involved in one task that seems unrelated to what is going on around them yet be able to see, hear and perceive everything that is being said. In fact for my son he actually listens better when he is not directly looking at something. That being said he watches and listens to everything. I remember Nate Frambach once sharing, “don’t worry that your kids aren’t listening to you, worry intensely that they are watching everything you are doing.” Over the past ten years I have become increasingly aware of the number of ways that people listen and process information and I have learned to become much more aware of my own biases in the ways I learned to communicate.

Still not done, so stay tuned for at least one more installment

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

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