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What You Can Learn from an Autistic Child

November 17, 2010

What You Can Learn from an Autistic Child:

Sarah is a 31 year old mother with an 11 year old autistic son. She never expected to be presented with such a challenge when her son was born and she was only 20. Sarah also cuts my hair and we talked about her experience and growth in raising her son. Her son does not talk and communicates mostly through “baby sign language.” He learns visually, through pictures and what he can see, rather than through language.

One of the questions I asked Sarah was, “What have you learned from having an autistic child?” The first thing she mentioned was that she learned to love better. I imagine discovering one has an autistic child or a child with some other significant disability must be heartbreaking. At the same time it opens one’s heart to love in ways never imagined. One can find joy and satisfaction in giving unconditionally to a child with such great needs and pouring love into the relationship.

In a similar way, Sarah told me, she had learned to become more affectionate. She explained that she is not naturally highly affectionate, but her son is – unlike many autistic children. And she has learned to respond in kind.

Sarah then said she learned to slow down and have more patience. She told me a story about walking to Starbucks with her son, who was three at the time. She was in a hurry but he was fascinated by flowers they passed. He tugged at her arm and stopped her forward movement. She turned and saw him signing the word “flower,” which was a milestone. He had never signed to her before. He then looked down at the flower intently, studying it, entranced by it. And it was a moment of joy for Sarah.

Sarah explained that she has learned a lot about herself, and knows herself much better. She sees her son’s journey as her journey as well. She believes there is a reason she was given this challenge. She accepts it graciously. She told me that she has learned to be much less selfish. The experience has accelerated her maturity and that she sees the world differently.

When I asked her what she meant by “seeing the world differently,” Sarah explained that she has become much more perceptive. Because her son does not speak, she needs to understand what he is trying to communicate in other ways. She said she has learned to read his eyes and his emotions by looking at his face and body language. Sarah explained that she can now read other people’s eyes and faces more than ever could before, and get a sense of what they are feeling without them talking.

Sarah is a wonderful example of how we can grow from apparent misfortune, how it can also be a blessing, and how it can enrich our lives in unexpected ways. Her son’s needs gave Sarah a higher purpose.

Khalil Gibran wrote, “It isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.” I prefer to view such events in a positive light. I believe that how we relate or respond to the challenges we encounter in our lives can help us grow, learn, achieve personal breakthroughs, get stronger, thrive, and become better persons.

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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in “A Story of Sweetness, Gentleness, and Kindness.”

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Wednesday will be on leaving a most meaningful legacy.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2010 7:20 pm

    How truly said, most of the time it’s what we make of our circumstances that define who we actually are and whether we think that the adversity can be made of benefit or is one which will make us suffer. Challenges bring out our true potential, giving us the higher purpose and aim in life.

    • November 20, 2010 7:48 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing your insights and thoughts. Challenges really do show the nature of our character and can offer a higher and more fulfilling purpose.

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