What’s Right with my Son?
A Father deals with Asperger’s and his own Relationship with God
By: S. Daniel Smith
I write this knowing that my son might read it someday. Part of me wants to be very careful with what I write, but the rest of me, and I hope it is the right part, wants him to know the truth. I want him to understand that I struggle as his dad. I don’t know what it’s like to be trapped behind the door of Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t know what it’s like to not even know that people are picking on me when they laugh at what I do. I don’t know what it’s like to be incredibly brilliant and exceptionally awkward at the same time. Yet I do know what it’s like to learn about my own sonship in Christ despite my own limitations, and I hope that, if my son ever sees this essay, he sees that he has taught me what it is like to be a child of God.
The issue of Asperger’s Syndrome is compounded because of the travel and underway time my career in the navy forces on me. I try to stay as involved as possible, but I’m seemingly always behind the curve when it comes to communicating with my boy. The truth is that I struggle to communicate with all three of our children, but in particular, as my son transitions to being a man, I find it even more difficult to stay connected to him.
On one of my recent at-sea periods, I began to take stock of all of the things that are “wrong” with my son. This was made easier by a recent episode at school where even his friends were not safe from his outbursts. What started out as a playful argument turned into an emotional eruption wherein my 13-year-old son slapped his buddy across the face.
What is wrong with my son?
Then there was the time he was playing a computer game on a school computer. He knew it was wrong. His teacher asked him why he was doing it and he didn’t have a good, or appropriate answer. Instead of accepting her correction, however, he started banging his pencil on the desk loudly (this is the Asperger’s kicking in…the elevated and escalatory response to a stimulus). Some of the students laughed uncomfortably, so he chucked said pencil at a nearby girl.
What’s wrong with my son?
On the surface, I know what’s wrong with him. He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. On top of that disadvantage, he has sensory processing disorder (SPD). Things that wouldn’t normally bother you or me turn my otherwise sweet and caring boy into a raging and insensitive person.
Deeper than just the diagnoses of Asperger’s and SPD themselves, my son struggles against his anger. I think part of it is because he holds it in so long that, when it comes out, it comes out with the force of a typhoon.
He also struggles with self-esteem. He’s sure that he’s not worthy…worthy of anything. More than once my wife has found a note that talks about how depraved he is and how undeserving of anything good. When confronted (lovingly), he simply states, matter-of-factly, that it’s true and we shouldn’t make a big deal about it. It’s so disheartening to see him cut himself down.
Another thing wrong is that he doesn’t work very hard. No matter how much we challenge him or take away his privileges, he often will do the minimum or delay as long as possible on school assignments. Sometimes, when he’s procrastinated to the point of exasperation, he gets himself into an anxious fit. Then we end up dealing with more than one of his issues at the same time.
Then there are the sensory-related issues. Too much noise and his emotional responses ramp up. The only way to combat this issue is to help him find a place to hide until he can calm down. Food is a problem too. He doesn’t like foods that other kids like, and by not liking, I mean he throws up when looking at them. It’s not just about being picky either. Deserts and candy find the same disgust in his eyes that broccoli and Brussels sprouts do. Yet he loves yogurt…as long as it’s the right flavor. It’s mind-boggling.
His handshake is weak, as is his core. His posture is painfully lacking, though to be honest, I struggle with that one too. I want him to be a man when he grows up, but the handshake is still the first measure of a person when meeting another, and it is an understatement to say that his needs work. For those of you who think the handshake should go away, you’re wrong. It’s a measure of a man in our culture and he needs to get this right.
Every time I think about it, my mind wonders, “What’s wrong with him?” And then, “Why can’t we just get through to him?” Then I move on to how I am failing to get him to adjust to life around him.
In the blindness of what’s wrong with my son, I forgot for a moment that I love him unconditionally. I forgot that I’m his dad, not just his father. I forgot that he means more to me than any other male human alive.
I’m reminded that I, too, am a complete paradox to God. He created me to be perfect, but I am my father Adam’s son, and so I am far from it. God created me to be holy, yet I consistently reject that created mission. He saved me from my sin, yet I too-often return to that lifestyle. He showed me grace by giving me a loving wife and wonderful children, but I shut them out or show meanness to them.
Maybe I should ask, “What’s wrong with me?”
Immediately the answer is to the question that wasn’t asked. My question is irrelevant. I want to know what’s wrong, and God wants to make me he son. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In reality, everything is wrong with me. I’m a sinner, I am confused, and I am simply overwhelmed by this world.
Yet I am God’s son, one that he loved unconditionally and sent his son to die to save. How much more should I unconditionally love my son in view of God’s ultimate sacrifice?
That changes everything. I had to remind myself just how important he is to me, how much of a blessing he is in my life. Reframing the issue in such a light allows me to stop asking, “What is wrong with my son?” and start asking, “What’s right with my son?”
He’s a bright kid. As with many children on the spectrum, he is great with math and other analytical sciences. When he does focus on what he’s doing, he’s very good. That’s another thing too…he has laser-sharp focus when he’s working on something he’s passionate about.
Most important, he is worthy. All of his struggles with self-worth are the key to my own relationship with God. God answered that by showing just how much he loved me. It shows me how much I can love my son. When I think about him in terms of how much I love him and forget, for a moment, that the world seems to be crashing down around us, I can realize just how much is “right” with him. And what’s right with him is so much more important than anything that’s wrong.