A Valentine for Autism

13 Feb

Kitty’s Valentine for AutismWhenever people meet Alphonse for the first time, they can’t help but ask questions. Most of the time, their first question would be, “Was he born with it?” to which I would reply with a straight, no-nonsense “Yes.” While Alphonse was officially diagnosed at eighteen months, looking back, I can’t help but see some of the signs. Like how fond he was of squinting at lights even at three months old. Or how, at eight months, he’d play with the rotor blades of his Fisher-Price helicopter, twirling it round and round and round, blissful in his seemingly endless escape from the demands of the world. Little signs, yes, for Alphonse was still connected enough with us and it was easy enough to ignore them as merely quirks or eccentricities in his personality. After all, who among us doesn’t have a flaw or two?

Then they would ask more questions, like “How did you know?” and “What are the signs of autism?” These are easy enough to answer, and for the most part, these require straightforward replies that smack of textbooks.

Once in a while, though, an unexpected question blows me away, and I lose almost all poise and polish as its absurdity completely floors me.

“Do you believe that autism is caused by diablos (demons)?”

A few days ago, I came face to face with a man who asked me this question. He had come into the house to do some repair, and since my husband was not home at the time, I was left to supervise his work. He was a chatty fellow and he noticed Alphonse running playfully around the house. He started asking questions when Alphonse came up to him and gestured to him to play.

At first, it seemed benign enough, and I wanted to be polite. From general questions about my son’s condition, he segued into spirituality. We agreed on some things, and despite some differences in our religious beliefs (he calls himself a born-again Christian, while I think of myself as Catholic Christian), we both believed that the path to salvation is one and the same. He quoted scripture with a flourish. I smiled despite his increasingly insistent tone because he reminded me so much of a Bible-toting preacher. But then, he took a step further than I liked with the discussion, by asking me the worst question in the world to ask a mother of a child with autism.

“Do you believe that autism is caused by diablos (demons)?”

My eyes widened in disbelief and I was forced to cover my gaping mouth and pretend a yawn. I didn’t want to offend this man whom I’ve only just met. Yet I didn’t want to stay there saying nothing at all in my son’s defense.

He obviously didn’t notice my increasing discomfort. He continued along the same line of thought: that man’s sicknesses, disabilities, and impairments are the work of demons and we only have to believe and have faith to be healed. That children born with disabilities are the handiwork of evil running loose in this world, challenging God. He made it sound oh-so-perfectly reasonable, but it is precisely this narrow-minded, perverse view of autism that has caused many a child to die from ignorant, intolerant, and relentless pursuits for a cure.

In truth, I was itching for a full-scale showdown. My beliefs against his. While I certainly do not discount the possibility of evil forces in this world, I bristle at the thought that my son’s condition is an offshoot of the devil’s work. This would imply that my son is “evil” at the core, and that he, or we, his parents, somehow deserved this. That autism is a “punishment.” That autism, like other disabilities, is justice meted on the “guilty.”

I looked him in the eye and politely responded, “Excuse me, sir, but I would have to stop you there. I do not believe in what you say. My son’s spirit is perfect, and if he is who he is, it is because God made him that way. Not to teach him a lesson, but to teach us — the people around him — lessons on tolerance, forgiveness, love, and mercy. He was made imperfect to perfect the spirits of those around him. He is not of the devil’s; he is not of your Diablo’s.” I was shaking then. It was all I could do not to ask him to leave.

Ruminating upon this experience, I have had to ask myself questions that seek the core of my faith. If I did not believe that autism is a manifestation of a spiritual condition, why, then, did I bring my son to healing nuns and priests for blessing? Why did I stand in line and bear more than five hours of waiting for Alphonse to be prayed upon by Father Suarez last year? Why did I seek Sr. Raquel? Am I a hypocrite? To believe that my son is perfect and yet look for a “cure?”

In the beginning, when I was much younger and naïve and yes, stupid, I looked for a “cure” wherever I could find it. In religion, in science, wherever, whatever. And like many other parents who desperately wanted to change their children into the world’s definition of “normal,” I fell into this trap of my own making. As I grew in love, wisdom, and spirit, I realized that as much as Alphonse needed help in coping with the world, I needed to accept him and embrace him as he is. More than the autism and the host of challenges that come with it, Alphonse will always be, first and foremost, my son.

And so, when I sought Father Suarez last year, or Sister Raquel or Father Corsi many years before that, I did not pray for Alphonse to be healed of his autism. I prayed that Alphonse may find his happiness. I prayed for an end to his hurting, to his anger and violence. I prayed that Alphonse learn of how great our love is for him, and knowing this, find solace and comfort in our arms when he is fearful of things. I prayed that he know his parents would move heaven and earth to help him and his brother be the best that they can be.

No, I no longer pray for a cure. Today, I pray for tolerance and acceptance in a world that sees beauty only in the perfect and whole. I pray for a little slice of the world, where Alphonse, and many other beautiful children like him, whole or not, normal or differently abled, can revel in the gifts that have been bestowed by our merciful Creator. And I pray for all the love the world can muster for my son, on Valentine’s Days he will never fully experience, and for every day of his life.

Happy Valentine’s Day, angel of our lives. Papa, Mama, and Kuya love you so much.


6 Responses to “A Valentine for Autism”

  1. mosaicspeakeasy February 13, 2008 at 5:13 am #

    your son is an angel. perfect in his quirks and in spite of the cold world around him. this is the most beautiful valentine message ive ever heard, and i wish you, your son, and the rest of your family the love and the blessings of our Lord always. peace and grace to you and your little miracle.
    God Bless,

    Thank you, Shay, for your gracious words! You have touched me with your kindness! And here I was, asking God to surround my son with people who will love him, and I find love in a stranger in the most unexpected way. 🙂 Thank you, thank you. ~♥Kittymama

  2. Maddy February 13, 2008 at 5:55 am #

    It can be very hard to deal with other people’s opinions. Happy Valentines day to all of your family.
    Best wishes

    Happy Valentine’s Day, Maddy! We continue to smash the wall of ignorance, one brick at a time, with love and compassion. Always works. 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  3. leira February 13, 2008 at 6:58 am #

    i can totally relate.. kung saan saan ko dinala si Joshwa dinala ko sa magtatawas, sa healer, sa psychic healer.. in hindsight i felt so stupid pero its a lesson learned to embrace and love him unconditionally.. thanks so much for the reminder. i remember i had an argument with my MIL kasi she said na a child had disabilities kasi pinaparusahan ang magulang kaya magulang ang dapat sisihin. told her upfront so are you saying na its our fault that Joshwa has autism. Sabi ko di sya parusa he’s a blessing..

    I am always reminded that it is MY own spirit that is imperfect, and with God’s grace, He has led me to a good place where I saw the beauty in my son’s imperfections. Despite all we’ve been through living with autism, I would not change a thing. Yes, our sons are our blessings. ~♥Kittymama

  4. FXSmom February 13, 2008 at 9:05 am #

    You had an amazing response for such an ignorant question! That is excellent and a lot of moms would have kicked that man out in a heart beat. I think your response was a teaching experience for that man.

    I have an aunt from my bio family who is a born again Christian. She has a sister that has a son with fragile X syndrome, the same thing my babies have. She had the audacity to say that God was punishing the two of us by giving us fragile X kids. I am still a bit irritated but karma came back and bit her in the toosh. She would later learn that her then 13 year old daughter had fxs too.

    God takes care of the situation one way or another. I think he gave you the words necessary for the moment 🙂

    Ignorance is a hard brick wall we need to smash. I was grateful that I had the words for that moment; sometimes, however, all I really want is to whup them in their behinds to shake the condescension out of them.

    I agree; God takes care of the situation in the end. He saved me a lot of a**-kicking too! ~♥Kittymama

  5. awalkabout February 13, 2008 at 1:42 pm #

    I know parents are often desperately seeking the “why” when really all that’s left to them is the “now what?” Whether it’s God, or the devil, or vaccines, or genetics, like at our house, it doesn’t really matter. Giving them the skills to let them grow up happy is our mission now. Best wishes.


    Hi, Babs! I couldn’t have put it any better. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and best wishes too! ~♥Kittymama

  6. hyprsts (Cris) February 17, 2008 at 12:58 am #

    I find this really hilarious! Hahaha!!!That one comment from your contractor about autism and demons. hahahaha!…Kittymama, you know where I am coming from, right? I ‘ve been in this practice deep enough to understand (not know) the different paths that autism is leading us to….Well, sad to say that people like that still exists and to waste our energies on their concerns that only drag us down serves no meaningful purpose. Let’s give them our compassion as we seek compassion (from others) for our kids…..I’ll give my compassion later. I just want to roll on the floor and laugh out loud right now. :-D!!!!

    Now that I’ve let off steam, I think I’ll join you in on the laughter. Thanks, Cris; you aways put things in perspective for me. ~♥Kittymama

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