Lessons We All Need To Learn by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche. 2023.
Author: A Little Faith Lift…Finding Joy Beyond Rejection
AWSA (Advanced Writers & Speakers Assoc.)

While visiting my grandchildren, Paige, age 3, and Tatum, age 1½, in Arkansas, their parents and I took them to a children’s indoor playground.  For two hours, they ran, climbed, slid, rolled and pretended.  Soon after we arrived, two other families showed up, each with an autistic son.  As we sat on the sidelines, watching our kiddos laughing and having fun, the mothers of these two 10-year-old boys stayed near their sons who needed constant monitoring.

Twice, one boy took off his shirt and attempted to climb a slide backwards.  Immediately, his mother grabbed his ankles, pulled him down the slide and wrestled him to put his shirt back on.  When a blaring alarm went off, the attendant bolted to the back door, the only exit left unlocked, from where the boy had escaped and was running towards the street.  His mother alertly ran out the front door to intercept her son.  We all stood frozen, wanting to help but not knowing what to do.  Within a minute, the three of them were back inside, safe.

What must that be like to parent an autistic child?  While my grandchildren mingled with other kids and wanted to show us their newest skill, these boys could not be left alone.  When our family went to a restaurant afterwards, the other family did not have that luxury, and when we tucked Paige and Tatum into bed later that night, the autistic family would tussle with children who fought sleep and wanted to flee.  Theirs was a lifelong struggle.

I once talked with a young parent after he and his wife received the diagnosis that their son was severely autistic.  Finding a nanny, an appropriate school, play-dates with friends and relaxing vacations was nearly impossible, and dealing with others’ dirty looks when their child has a meltdown breaks their hearts.

On my trip to Arkansas, I encountered a woman who works for HopSkipDrive, a company that hires drivers for special-needs children.  She drives an autistic boy to school and back and is paid by the government “very, very well,” she said.  The young boy’s caretaker rides with him in the back seat of the car, and one day she told him that he had been bad at school and would not get a treat.  Since the school gives them a treat no matter how they behave, this child had no idea why he was not rewarded.  He began punching and kicking his caretaker, and the driver had to physically intervene.

In the article “Desiring God,” author Cameron Doolittle—who runs a weekend respite center for special-needs children–writes four things autistic children have taught her about her faith.  One child is able to filter out excessive noises and listen only to those who matter most, just as we should do with God’s voice. Another child acts out Disney characters to portray his emotions.  To communicate fear, he acts like the rat in Ratatouille; to show strength, he acts like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Doolittle writes that we should filter our emotions through the lens God has provided us in the bible.

One young boy uses words literally.  If Doolittle tells him to not hit our friends, he thinks it’s okay to hit strangers. Christians, the author says, also need to choose their words carefully and speak the truth in love.  Another boy, after a weekend of respite, greets his mother with, “You’re still fat, Mom.”  Knowing that that is inappropriate, he has learned to quickly ask for forgiveness.  We should do likewise, writes Doolittle.

I asked my parent-friend what God has taught him through his experience fathering a special-needs son.  “Patience.  Unconditional love.  Dedication.  Unselfishness.”  Qualities we all should have, but I’m not sure this isn’t one of the most challenging ways to learn those lessons.



One thought on “Lessons We All Need To Learn by Patty LaRoche”

  1. Great article….things we never think of if we do not have an autistic child or have never been close to a family who has an autistic child. The comparison to that of Christian life is eye opening or perhaps heart opening!
    Thank you for a short but profound article!

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