Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with a child with autism. I was standing in a hallway with this little boy as dozens of children changed classrooms and many adults were walking by and talking – which can be very upsetting to someone with sensory issues. As we stood against the wall, I stepped in front of him to shield him from much of the chaos. “I’m trapped!” he exclaimed. “You’re not trapped – you’re safe,” I replied in a soft voice. He sat on the floor in front of me, smiled angelically, and said with a contented sigh, “Oh. I’m safe.”
It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to be able to spend time with someone with autism, and it brought back many fond memories of my dream job which I held for three years while living in Ontario….
K, who could tell you the make and model of car of everyone he ever met.
S, who came to me reading and writing at a Kindergarten level, and after two years with me went on to high school, and finished with an A average.
V, who had a memory linked to dates – he could tell you exactly what happened on any date you gave him, even years after the fact.
O, who had the sweetest smile and the most joyous countenance.
T, who could multiply four-digit by four-digit numbers in his head.
And many other students who brought laughter and learning to my every day. During those years, there was never a day when I did not want to go to work. Some days were hard – very hard – as people with autism can often have anxieties that result in unusual or dangerous behaviour, but there was never a day that I did not want to be there.
For many, people with autism and other disorders are seen as being different, strange, weird. Parents and other members of the autism community continually struggle to fight these stereotypes, even sometimes amongst themselves. Different organizations accuse each other of being prejudiced or biased one way or another. Even the New York Times has published articles on the stigma of autism.
But none of that mattered to me. In LDS theology, we believe that people with such disabilities proved themselves before they came to this earth, and therefore will abide in celestial glory. Their purpose here is not so much to better themselves, although that is a goal for all people, but to help us become more patient, more kind, more understanding, more like Christ.
How privileged I was to be able to work with celestial beings every day!
As Latter-Day Saints, we have a lot of expectations placed upon us. Our common beliefs suggest to us how to eat, what to wear, how to spend our time, what kinds of employment we should have….the list goes on. Non-members frequently ask, “How can you live with all these rules?” And the answer is…they keep us safe. Just as I shielded that little boy from the chaos of the hallway, our standards and teachings shield us from the chaos of the world – providing safety from pornography, obscenity, addiction, divorce, bankruptcy, etc…. Far from limiting us, these teachings free us from many of the worries of our modern society, and allow us to focus on what matters most – our faith and our families.
Sometimes it just takes a little child to remind us. We’re safe.