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A Spiritual Key for Autism

by Melissa Gray

Our oldest daughter has special needs. She has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Raising a child with autism is not easy. Their development may be slower than that of a typical child, and I worry that it may be too difficult for her to achieve simple tasks, spending hours of each day focusing on speech, motor skills, and potty training. With hours spent each day in therapy doing just that, where do we fit in time for that child's spiritual needs?

We face this problem regularly. When a parent doesn't even know how much of the world his child understands, how can that parent expect them to appreciate the finer notions of an invisible world? How do we explain the concept of God, or faith, or even prayers? Grounded so much in the reality of teaching Breanna daily tasks that must be learned, trying to boost her performance high enough that she will attend a "normal kindergarten", we have neglected her spiritual needs.

Why don't we teach her Bible stories? Well, we never had because she couldn't sit through five minutes of any other story. Why don't we teach her to pray? We can't teach her simple social skills with people, how could we teach her to praise God? Why don't we explain the service, or the concept of communion to her? We haven't tried, because even though she's bodily there, her mind is wandering.

But the joy on her face as she joined us for the first time for communion was inexplicable. And amazingly enough, after three years, every time for her is like the first time. Her face is radiant, and her excitement is overwhelming. I truly can see the grace of God in her as she revels in joining humanity on its knees. My beautiful daughter who seldom looks us in the eyes, somehow can feel the body of Christ, joining us as one person.

Tonight we prepared the children for bed, we brushed hair, and brushed teeth, and slipped on our favorite jammies. We tucked Breanna and her two younger sisters into bed, read their stories, and said a simple prayer. "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and to guard me through the night, and wake me in the morning's light" We say it every night, once with her younger sister repeating and once with the youngest, and never thought of teaching it to Breanna.

This evening, as I walked from the room, I was amazed to hear my usually silent daughter's high pitched, angel-sweet voice, chanting "Now I lay me down to sleep..." So I sat, leaning over her bed, and she looked me in the eyes as I finished the prayer with her.

As I kissed her forehead softly, she smiled at me and whispered "Amen".

Melissa Gray is a stay-at-home mom of five beautiful children, all of whom teach her new wonders every day. Copyright © 2002 Melissa Gray. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2003 Barbara Laufersweiler
Last updated January 25, 2003


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