Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Spiritual Education of Autism

My grandma Vesta used to be an exceptional education teacher in my hometown when I grew up.  I remember being 4 years old, and sitting with the kids that my grandmother taught, and the same memory surfaces every time.  It is of me, licking a red Popsicle and staring at a mentally handicapped child eating the same.  However, I had been to the school of hard knocks for getting the front of my shirt dirty, and by four years, I had learned that this was a "no, no."   I must have been amazed at the amount of Popsicle drool that the child I was staring at was producing because I couldn't take my eyes off him.

My grandma gave me a light tap on the back of the head and faced me, questioning, "What are you doing looking at him like that?  Stop staring.  There isn't anything wrong with him.  He's just special."

Being a mother to an autistic 3-year-old, this learning experience comes to mind often. 

Sometimes, I think of Grandma Vesta's words when people are staring at us while I drag a wailing, 60-pound-3-year-old (who looks to be 5 yrs old), kicking and screaming out of the grocery store.  And, as luck has it sometimes, the observer will be some little old lady who must have in her mind, "raised her kids right." And, as she passes us by clucking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, the air of staunch disapproval lingers like skunk smell as she walks away. 

Shaking off the feelings of offense, I often respond with the silent prayer, "God, please don't give her family anyone with a special need.  I don't think she can handle it."

Which brings me to a spiritual thought I have had about autism.  In my Lakota upbringing, I remember being told that children chose their parents before they were born.  I was told that sometime, somewhere in the heavens, that I myself had looked down and picked my very own mom and dad.  

Relating that to myself one day, as I sat in tears after a frantic day of caring for my daughter, I asked out loud, "Why God?  I mean, I thought that I had been through enough in life.  Now this?  I didn't sign up for this!"

The answer that came back to me was, "Yes.  Because Grandma and God knew you could handle it."

So the first spiritual education that I have come to in my journey with Jaunie and her autism, is that although God doesn't always give you the "perfect child," the child he gives you is not only yours, but has CHOSEN YOU to be there in her life.  And, what this spiritual education tells me, is that God may have taken all of my life experiences and interests into account before blessing me with a child with autism.

The spiritual education of autism also tunes me into the Lakota philosophy that all children are wakan, or sacred beings.  The belief is that children come to us with an inherent knowledge, something that they already know that we don't.  Because they cannot speak, young children are believed to have the ability to see ghosts and apparitions, things that older people cannot see, because the young children cannot "tell on the spirits" and let anyone know they are there.  It is common on my reservation to have a baby sitting on the floor, then all of a sudden, the baby will point to something in front of him or her while playing, pointing at nothing.  Whatever adults are around will get "freaked out," because it is believed that the child was pointing at a spirit.

So children are called wakanyeja - because they stand with only one foot on earth.  The other foot is linked to the spirit world.

My spiritual education tells me that Jaunie is really smarter than me.  She sees things, hears things, and knows things that I do not know.  She is getting older, but maybe hanging onto her power, holding on to the spirit world as long as possible, because it is a better place than here on earth.  This tells me to be patient, loving, and kind - be more like the spirits - and maybe she will spend more time "present" in "our world."  

Like all on earth, she is on an important journey, and I am just a bystander, but also an integral part of helping her get from one place to the next.  Jaunie's journey is above the regular trials and tribulations of day-to-day life.  She is blessed by not having her mind cluttered with "what ifs" and "if only" and "I wish."  Her view is more concrete, "it is or isn't," and "I want or don't want."

Jaunie moves about like an old woman at home.  She doesn't like to talk most of the time, and doesn't attempt "small talk" at all.  What she likes to do is keep to herself, and play with nature's elements:  water and dirt.  She never troubles herself over things like clothing or toys, and is happy with herself without much effort.  But, just like most older people "set in their ways;" she doesn't like to be disturbed.  She is usually in a state of mind like, "I'm over here doing this.  You are over there doing that.  Let's keep it that way."

The spiritual education of autism is also taking into account that I have been chosen by this little spirit, and it was deemed "good" by all the other spirits and God.  Now, it is just about the journey, and finding things to be appreciated.  Jaunie has taught me more about spirituality in her 3 years about life, than I could have ever hoped to know before she arrived.

1 comment:

  1. I just really wanted to thank you sincerely for writing about your children and Autism like this. I have been struggling my whole life trying to understand having Asperger's, and your perspective has really changed my look on myself and the disability.

    Your strength is shown in your beautiful optimism, optimism most people don't have. Most parents, I think, see autism as a blockade, as something to get rid of. You see it as something to try to understand, something to appreciate, a blessing.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I hope the best for you and your family.


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