It was a different experience at the psychiatrist’s office this week.
The neuropsychiatric clinic has moved from the squat, dark 1970’s building with the unfortunate carpeting and the rabbit-warren offices to the spanking new top floor of a building downtown. Everything is light-filled, modern, and perfect. Where there were once ancient toys in the moldering waiting room, now there are iPads built into a glossy white wall. The contrast is striking.
It felt appropriate that the surroundings weren’t the same, because during this routine visit for my two youngest boys, our psychiatrist told me that my youngest son, Truman, is on the autism spectrum.
This means that seventy-five percent of my kids have autism.
I have suspected this for some time. Dr. M evaluated him a year ago and diagnosed my youngest son with generalized anxiety disorder. At that time, she didn’t feel he displayed enough signs to be diagnosed with autism.
But this time things had changed. She saw what I have been seeing for months. Truman, aged four and a half, has pervasive anxiety. He is now increasingly rigid, wanting things to go exactly as the image in his mind tells him they should go. When they do not, he is overcome and melts down.
He has stopped eating most foods; we are down to about four or five things he will reliably eat, and they still have to adhere to his strict requirements. He requires the same treatment for gastrointestinal issues that both Jack and Charlie need. He covers his ears at loud noises, just like Jack and Charlie do. He needs chemical intervention to fall asleep at night and to keep the feral anxiety wolf at a reasonable distance when he is awake.
When Truman began needing all the same strategies, techniques, and meds that his two brothers on the spectrum need, I would tell myself, “Dr. M thinks Truman is fine.” But in my belly, I knew I was deluding myself.
And so, the world completed another rotation around the sun. Truman screamed a lot and cried over things which seemed small to the rest of us, but which felt disastrous to him. He has resisted potty training with his whole being. We are inching closer to age five and we just can’t check it off the list. Whenever we use public bathrooms with those heinous auto-flushing toilets, Jack, Charlie, and Truman all cover their ears in unison. They talk loudly in quiet places. They panic about all the things. While they have differing ability levels, the way they see the world and respond to it are quite similar.
So why do I feel the need to explain this?
Since I sat in that beautiful new office and heard Dr. M say exactly what I have been thinking for a year or more, I remembered a news article I read years ago about a family with several children, four of whom were on the autism spectrum. I was overcome with emotion at the time, thinking of the parents of these children, who all had diverse needs.
The thing that resurfaced in my memory was something the mother of this family said in the article. She said that people often asked her why they continued having children when autism appeared in their family. She went on to explain that they didn’t know that their older children had autism until after the younger siblings were born. When I read this, I wondered who these impertinent people asking these questions were. It’s nobody’s business. I remember being dumbfounded by this.
And now here I am, sometimes being asked the same question. Why did you have more children after Jack? Weren’t you worried they would have disabilities? The quick answer is, Jack’s syndrome had never occurred more than once in a family, as far as the research showed. We knew there was a risk of autism, but we acted in faith, knowing that our family wasn’t complete.
The long answer is, it’s complicated. And while it’s nobody’s business, I will happily tell you if you honestly want to know.
We didn’t know Charlie had autism when we had Truman. The signs did not appear until after Truman’s birth, and they manifest differently from Jack’s disability.
After Charlie’s diagnosis, people would sometimes ask me if I was worried about Truman having autism. I didn’t know how to respond to this. I didn’t know if Truman would have a diagnosis. Life had taught me not to be cocky about these things. I supposed that the people asking the question were projecting their own fears as they wondered about this. Keep in mind, Truman was already born. It’s not like I could send him back, or that I even wanted to. Children aren’t shoes you order from Zappos.
We had our children in faith. We asked God if we should have more kids, and he gave us repeated spiritual promptings to tell us that Charlie and Truman were part of our family, too. I think this is the hard part for some to understand. If you don’t believe in asking for divine intervention, or if you don’t think it exists, then it may not make sense to you why someone would ask for direction and then follow it, even when it seems counterintuitive.
I feel it’s important to say that Autism Spectrum Disorder truly is a vast spectrum upon which probably all humans could be placed. At one end of the spectrum are individuals like Jack, who is nonverbal and profoundly delayed. Somewhere near the other end are individuals like Truman, who have many abilities even as they face sensory, social, or other challenges. There are as many variations in how autism may affect people as there are people with autism.
My littlest boy, who we call Baby, is charming and sociable. He is bright, determined, happy, and funny. He has a big vocabulary and an excellent memory. He is the same terrific little boy today that he has always been.
The day after Dr. M told me the news, I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes and contemplating my family. I abruptly remembered Tabitha from the New Testament. I’ve always liked this story because a) it is one of the few in the scriptures that actually names a woman from ancient times and b) the name Tabitha has just the right amount of history, sass, and style, and it isn’t on any top ten lists, which makes me love it. I once held it in reserve for the day I had a daughter (which turned out to be a mythical day, but whatever).
Over the years, I had two noteworthy experiences in the temple connected to Tabitha. I relate Tabitha’s story to my family, because in both instances, I went to the temple with the express purpose of asking God if we should have another child. In both cases, the answer was a clear yes.
The story is found in the Book of Acts, where we read that there was a disciple named Tabitha who lived at Joppa. She was known by her good works and generosity. After an illness, she died and was laid out by her grieving friends, who heard that the apostle Peter was nearby. The women sent two men to ask Peter if he would come to them.
When Peter came, he went into the chamber, “and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning to the body said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.”
For years, I thought my Tabitha/temple experiences were about a little girl who would be mine. But after receiving diagnoses for yet another of my children, the spirit clearly told me that that isn’t the meaning of this experience, which repeated itself exactly the same way a second time, on a different day, in a different temple.
I stood in front of my kitchen sink this week and looked out the window at the rustling leaves on the Cottonwoods, and the shade dappling the grass and the trampoline. I remembered that every time I asked God about my future with my children, he audibly responded, “Tabitha.”
I now understood that God was comparing my life to her story.
Tabitha was a woman who wanted to do good for people. When she died, Peter used the priesthood to raise her up again as a witness of God’s power in those who believe.
I’m not always filled with good works. But my children give me unending opportunities for giving and serving, because that is what they need. Handling three boys with autism has at times felt like it’s killing me. And yet, with another kid’s placement on the autism spectrum, I feel peaceful. My boys are special, and God loves them even more than I do. Experience has shown me that when I pray and keep going with even a kernel of faith, Jesus stays with me. He is strong when I am not.
Sunlight slanted onto my hands last Tuesday as I stacked dishes and cups. As I worked, I heard the spirit whisper to me that, like Tabitha, God is raising me up.
Peter said Tabitha’s name, and she rose from death.
When I beseeched God about my family, he said “Tabitha,” and lifted me from sorrow.