In this journey of raising a child with autism, I am full of the “what ifs” and the “what will it best”. I am caught in a worry trap at times and need to rest in the “all things are possible.” By the time my daughter graduates from high school it will be 2025. Lord willing, that is a “will be”.By that time, she will reach adulthood. The what ifs bring me to thinking, dreaming, and praying.
Dr. Laura Hendrickson wrote a book about her son with autism. He is now long graduated. He became valedictorian of his class. In Laura’s book, Finding your Child’s way on the Autism Spectrum, she relays all the what ifs, worry traps, and lessons learned. At the conclusion of the book she includes Eric’s valedictorian speech. After reading it, I was speechless and crying. In that moment of reading, I began to picture myself sitting in an auditorium and listening to my own daughter standing at the podium. She is decked in purple and yellow. She is tall like her dad and still as much looking like Goldilocks than ever. She walks up to the microphone confidently and she speaks with assertiveness, intelligence, and with the evidence of God’s good work in her. Her words, like Eric’s, are hope-filled: “We are called to glorify God and do His work” he says. “Is there one ideal personality type and set of abilities that glorifies God the best? Do we have to fit a mold? On the contrary, each of us is uniquely designed for the contribution God intends for us to make through our lives.” ( p. 127, Hendrickson’s Finding your way on the Autistic Spectrum)- Eric’s speech) “Uniquely designed for the contribution I am to make. ”
I sit in my seat, reflect, and marvel at the contributions she has made. She has made us laugh. She has noticed the beauty secrets of creation. She has had energy and joy that make us wake up and be joyful ourselves in this weary world. In this image of the future, I begin to tear up with joy and thanksgiving for all that God has done thus far.
My daughter continues as Eric does: “I have autism.” she admits as Eric does. “I have often temped to ask ‘Why can’t I be like everyone else’? Then I am reminded that my life is not a mistake. God made me just the way I am and He has a purpose for me even in the things about me that are different. Perhaps especially in the things about me that are different.” p. 128 Hendrickson)
I know I will at that moment recount all the times I have put that dreaded label on her. I will then recount all the trials and struggles and screams and tears. I know by then my daughter will have asked that dreaded why question. But yet, in that moment, she will say with confidence as Eric does: “I am NOT a mistake! My differences are especially purposeful! ” The tears will continue. My daughter will have again testified to the work of an amazing God. I will need tissues to continue to wipe my tears. This is where my husband will squeeze and hold my hand. The inexpressible joy will continue to flow.
Her speech continues and creates a pin drop silent audience. There are no dry eyes. “Let me do what God has called me to do. Let me do the work of pleasing Him and becoming more like the image of Christ rather than what this world wants.”
This I say is what she always did. She knew to be who God made her to be.
“I thank Him for helping me.” she says. “If it were not for Him, I would not be here today.”
There is thunderous applause. She smiles and laughs heartily as she always does when joy captures her spirit. She bows slightly and smiles and throws her cap in the air with the other graduates. The laughter continues.
In six weeks, my daughter will begin kindergarten. We are FAR from 2025. She is far from being valedictorian of her class. Somehow after reading Eric Hendrickson’s speech, it is closer than I think. Not just because of time moving so fast, but because it is a witness to God at work. My dreams for my daughter became visible. Valedictorian 2025. It’s possible!