Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I found myself in shock when I heard the doctor say the words “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with Global Sensory Delay” and once we were out of her clinic, I immediately felt depressed and started crying.
I did not know what to think or what would come next. It was as if my whole world froze and then crumbled down on me. Questions started to flood my mind: “Why us? What did I do wrong? What should we do next? Will my son ever be normal? What future will he have?”
I felt as if the Lord had given me a much awaited toy, only to discover that it was broken. I was angry at Him. I felt He was being unfair. My husband and I offered our life to Him through our service as full-time lay missionaries, forsaking our own dreams, and then this is what we got in return.
"Normal" beginnings I got pregnant with our son, Pablo, three months after our wedding. We were very happy because we really wanted a child right away. My husband and I were assigned as a missionary couple to Europe at the time, and it was there where Pablo was born. He exhibited relatively “normal” development as a baby, reaching the right milestones for his age.
However, when we moved back to the Philippines just before his second birthday, he started exhibiting “different” behavior—walking on tiptoe, flapping his hands and not maintaining eye contact. He also stopped responding to his own name. Initially, we thought it was just a phase since he had gotten used to German as a primary language when we were in Vienna. My mother-in-law was a bit alarmed though, and she wanted to rule out any special needs so she encouraged us to have him checked.
After three months of waiting for an appointment with a developmental pediatrician, we discovered Pablo had ASD.
The journey to acceptance I had a hard time accepting his condition. It actually took me around two years to do so. Don’t get me wrong—I love my son fiercely and would do anything for him. But during those first two years after his diagnosis, I felt that we did not deserve what was happening. I felt like God was playing with us since He knew that I really wanted a boy as an eldest child, and He gave me one but with ASD.
I went through all the seven stages of grief--shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, then acceptance and hope. It helped that I spoke to the spiritual director of our community, and he counseled us on “what a gift the Lord has given us.” This happened inside the San Sebastian Church in Bacolod City, and I was actually staring at the image of Saint Sebastian with all the arrows in his body, but with his face at peace.
Our spiritual director asked me why I kept praying for Pablo’s healing. Does it mean that if he does not “recover” from ASD, he will no longer fulfill anything in life? Does it mean that his life has no sense and meaning? He also said that for all we know Pablo was already fulfilling the task that the Lord has set out for him—to teach us how to love without condition and to reach out to people like Pablo, people with special needs. Then he made me realize the blessing of why God gave us three girls as Pablo’s siblings: to help us in helping Pablo.
Celebrating small victories Questions still come from time to time, especially when we have a difficult time understanding Pablo, who is a non-verbal child. But right now, I am excited with what the Lord has in store for Pablo and our family. I am excited for the surprises that are in store for us, especially as we celebrate the small steps he makes, such as learning to speak even the simplest of words. Just this morning, he greeted me spontaneously with “Morning, Mommy!” to my surprise and joy.
We’re focusing on helping Pablo express himself. We support his love for swimming. He is really smart. He is able to see when you are happy, upset or sad, and he is able to respond to it. We bring Pablo out most of the time even if there are chances of him throwing a tantrum. We’ve discovered that the more we bring him along, the lesser his tantrums are. I take this as a sign that he wants to be with us all the time.
Pablo interacts more with his sisters, and the girls always look out for him. They will become women who know how to love and take care of a person unconditionally. We are excited to discover more about him, and for our girls to do the same. We don’t feel pity for Pablo. Though it still looks uncertain, we are not worried for his future because the Lord slowly shines a ray of light every day as we are able to meet more people in similar situations.
A different prayer and focus Before, I would see kids Pablo’s age and think, “What if he did not have autism?” Now, I no longer have such thoughts. The excitement of discovering more about Pablo is greater and has opened a lot of amazing adventures for our entire family.
Of course, there are still too many uncertainties to worry about, but I always remember one of Pablo's favorite characters, Buzz Lightyear, saying “To infinity and beyond!” God is bigger than our concerns and worries, and He knows what He is doing. Despite crappy and stressful moments, I have never been happier since I embraced Pablo having special needs.
I no longer pray for complete healing nor a turnaround from ASD. Instead, I pray for Pablo to be able to communicate with us in any way, and for us to be sensitive enough to see the clues he is giving us. I pray for the wisdom to know what to do.
To end, please allow me to share this short letter I wrote for our son. I don’t know when he will be able to reply to it, or if he will be able to understand everything, but I just want to tell the world how blessed we are to have him in our lives.
“Pablo, you are God`s love for us in the flesh. You bind our family closer. You strengthen our marriage. You bring joy to your sisters who always get amazed at the surprises you share. You challenge us to go more or do more! We will never tire from loving and helping you. As a child with special needs, you have made us special, too. You have taught me that God is bigger than the boogie man (remember, from Veggie Tales?) and how to think about infinity and beyond! Thank you for blessing my life.--Mommy”