I asked God, “Why me? I’m not good enough to be the parent of a child with autism.” Then, one day, I heard as clearly as if someone was shouting at me: “PRAY!!!”
By Rebecca Arganbright
I have a son with autism, and he has been marked with a unique thumbprint of God that none of my other kids have. You can tell that God has set him apart. Max has a gentleness and sensitivity in his soul, a concern for others that is usually unheard of in autism. Because of this trait, one of his therapists was unconvinced for a long time that he was accurately diagnosed with autism. Yet, he has autism—this we know for a fact, though it has taken us nine years and counting to accept it.
Though he has a gentle heart, he also has a heart full of intense and complicated emotions that are confusing to him; he lives in a world that is unstructured, with no safe routines; he has sensory issues that make it difficult for him to self-regulate; he cannot process information fast enough when people are talking, and so he is always “behind” or “slow.” For all these reasons, he finds other children too loud, too intense, too unpredictable, and too complicated, and so, for his own sanity, he shuts out the world and all who extend friendship to him.
Autism is hard. And it’s hard for those who have to watch the person live in it. It is even more difficult for parents to openly admit it’s hard; you parents who have children with autism know what I’m talking about: when we complain about autism, we are chastised for complaining about our children. Autism is a world of conflicts and misunderstandings. It’s difficult for both the person with autism and his family, who want to understand him; it’s like living in a never-ending maze that is full of confusing twists and turns and dead-ends with only one way out. It is difficult to discipline autistic children, because you never know what is behavior from autism or behavior simply because your kid is being a stinker. You are always second-guessing yourself.
It is difficult when you realize you’ve been coddling and feeling sorry for your child because of his disability when you should have been lifting him up, and it’s difficult when you realize you have been too hard on him because of things he can’t control.I have been there. I have been the “bad parent,” the “insensitive parent,” the “human parent,” the “over-protective parent,” the “unloving parent.” I have not always embraced this cross of autism. I haven’t always had hope that despite autism, my child can still have a happy and fulfilling life. There have been many days and nights when I asked God, “Why me? I’m not good enough to be the parent of a child with autism.” I have been full of doubts about myself, and felt sorry for myself.
Then one day as I was thinking about all this, I heard as clearly as if someone was shouting at me: “PRAY!!!” Along with this came a message of hope, that if I would just take time to pray every day for Max, things would get better. He may not be “cured” from autism, but we would learn to carry this cross joyfully for the benefit of holiness rather than dragging it behind us.
He may not be “cured” from autism, but we would learn to carry this cross joyfully for the benefit of holiness rather than dragging it behind us.
Along with this message came a vision . . . the strong idea that I should create an autism rosary. (I make handmade clay rosaries that I sell through my etsy shop, Roses for Mary.)
As I developed the idea, it went from being a full-length rosary to a tenner rosary, and then from a tenner to a niner rosary.A niner rosary is a novena rosary: nine simple Hail Marys for the intention in your heart. Every night when I say my prayers and the old guilt of not being a “good enough” mother to Max (and his needs) starts to set in, I say my nine Hail Marys for both of us: that God will give him the special graces to deal with his cross of autism, and that He will help me to help Max carry it. Because being the “Simon of Cyrene” in Max’s life is all I can do.
This niner rosary has the colors of autism; the colors symbolize the different aspects that autism has, and are purposely bright to symbolize HOPE . . . a symbol that we parents tend to miss. It comes with a small sterling silver puzzle piece. The puzzle piece is the symbol of Autism Awareness, a sign that we are always trying to figure out our loved ones with autism but we’re also trying to find a way to help them “fit” in this world that’s full of puzzle pieces. There is no patron saint of autism yet (though, you never know, maybe your child will be that saint!). So instead of a saint’s medal, I used a Miraculous Medal, because after my nine Hail Marys, I place my son in Our Lady’s hands.
I wanted to make this niner rosary for anyone with autism, but especially for those who feel hopeless because of it. God has never given us more than we can handle; and along with autism and the loneliness it brings, we truly aren’t alone! There is much hope for those who have autism. My son struggles, but he is happy. And I do believe that one day, he will overcome autism; but if not, he will be stronger because of it.
The Autism Society has a page describing the symbolism of the autism ribbon.
Rebecca Arganbright is the mother of five children and the author of The Little Flower: A Parable of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, coming from Peanut Butter & Grace in April. She sells her handmade clay rosaries at Roses for Mary, and runs a Facebook group for Catholic parents of autistic children.
You can pre-order The Little Flower: A Parable of St. Thérèse of Lisieux at a discount here: The Little Flower: A Parable of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.