Recently, it was my son’s 18th birthday. It really doesn’t seem real that I now have two adult children. Both of my adult children are on the autism spectrum, which poses certain challenges when it comes to leading them to a life of independence. Let’s just say, it’ll be a while before I get to turn one of their bedrooms into a man-cave. To be honest with you, they’re both great guys and I really don’t mind having them around a few extra years.
My middle son (the one in the picture) is the one who just turned 18. I vividly remember gazing at him, when he was born, and imagining all of the wonderful things he would do when he grew up. I still believe he is going to do wonderful things, it’s just that the road to Wonderfulthingsville is going to be more like a winding, speedbump-laden path than a straight-shot expressway.
Now that the boys are both considered adults, I figured I’d share a few things about what it’s like to raise autistic children. With an estimated 1 in 10 children on the spectrum, chances are you have a child, or know a child, with autism. If you have a child with autism, I hope these help.
You wish you could do more to help them make friends. This has been one of the toughest things for me. My heart breaks on a regular basis when I see my son ignored or rejected by other kids. Autism isn’t a visible, easily recognizable disability so other teenagers just tend to see him as weird or quirky. When they exclude him, he notices and it hurts. At youth group, he usually sat alone and came home feeling sad.
It’s hard for him to make friends online as well. Having a very black and white outlook on life, he’ll usually “call out” people for swearing or inappropriate behavior. As you can imagine, this opens the door for all sorts of negative reactions from people who don’t understand the real person behind the avatar.
Since it’s so difficult for my son to make friends, I try my best to be a good friend to him. I check in on him often, invite him to walk with me, and play games with him. He really is a treasure and I pray often for him to make good friends.
You have to learn a new language. Imagine living with someone who only speaks Italian. You work hard at learning to speak Italian yourself, but then you realize that the person SPEAKS Italian, but UNDERSTANDS French. Then you have to learn French, but don’t get too comfortable because you might need to brush up on your German once in a while.
The point is, communication isn’t always easy between myself and my son. I’ve learned to ask a lot of clarifying questions before responding to what he says to me. I’ve also learned that I can’t always count on his tone of voice or body language to make things clearer. Unless he’s angry. Then it’s pretty clear.
I have to be patient, listen actively, and talk in ways that do not communicate too many ideas at a time.
Your hopes and aspirations for them have to remain fluid. We all have hopes and aspirations for our children. We dream of them becoming successful writers, pastors, entrepreneurs, doctors, and missionaries. Sometimes our children don’t want to do the things we dream for them, and sometimes they just don’t have the capacity.
When I heard about Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison, I thought, he could do something amazing! He might. Or he might not. Either way, I’m ok with it. He IS someone amazing and I love him no matter what.
Earlier today, I took him down to the local community college to get enrolled. He wants to be a medical transcriptionist. He has mad typing skills and I’m super proud of him.
You have to take initiative for them. My son likes to be alone in his room…a lot. He likes things with screens. He likes the computer, the phone, and the television. When company comes over, he goes to his room. It’s not that he doesn’t like company, or exercise, or creativity. He just needs someone to take him by the hand and draw him out.
For many autistic kids, hypersensitivity to the world around them is a problem and there’s comfort in being alone and focusing on a screen to tune everything else out. If he hasn’t gotten exercise in a while, I’ll invite him on a walk. If there’s a fun activity he might like, I have to encourage him to get involved. Sometimes he protests to playing a game or hanging out with the family, but he’s almost always glad that he did.
You have to remember that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I used to pray a lot that God would heal my son. I know now that he is just as God wanted him. As Temple Grandin says, “Different, not less.” A disability is a bend in the road, not the end of the road. My son has taught me so much about childlike faith, friendship, and love. Being his father has made me a better person; more caring, patient, and kind.
I wouldn’t trade the 18 years I’ve spent with him for anything. I see Jesus in him. I love the way he worships (he plays bass on the church worship team), I love the way he jokes with me (he has incredibly well-timed farts), and I love his smile. He really is fearfully and wonderfully made.
If you have a child with autism, I hope you don’t grow weary. Keep dreaming for him or her, and be an amazing friend.
You’ve probably heard before that this is a fatherless generation. 20 million children live in homes without fathers.
This is a reality that is leaving a gaping wound on our society.
Every summer, our church sponsors a camp for abused and neglected foster children called Royal Family Kids Camp. We work with social services to bring 25-30 kids (age 6 to 11) to a camp in western Illinois where they get to be kids without the fear of abuse or rejection. Some of them have been beaten, some of them have been molested, and some both. Of all of the campers that I’ve met since we started the program, I have yet to meet one with a biological father in their lives. It usually leaves me with thoughts of breaking dads’ kneecaps.
As a person who grew up without a father in the home, I know what it’s like to try to become a real man without a dad to show you how. The feelings of vulnerability and insecurity were sometimes crippling. When a friend’s dad attempted to molest me, I wished more than anything for a father’s arms to run to but they weren’t there. When I was bullied, I didn’t have a dad to tell me how to handle it. When the guys all talked about sports or cars, I was clueless. It was by God’s grace that things weren’t worse and I remember that every time camp rolls around.
I recently came across some startling statistics about growing up fatherless:
Children from fatherless homes account for 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of the pregnant teenagers, 90 percent of the homeless and runaway children, and 70 percent of the institutionalized juveniles. They account for 85 percent of the children with behavioral disorders, 80 percent of rapists, 71 percent of all high school dropouts, 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers and 85 percent of all youths in prison.
Wow, if those numbers don’t move you, then check your pulse. Fatherlessness is a pandemic with far-reaching effects.
So, what can be done? Well, I don’t think the answer is to fold our arms and expect dads to step up to the plate. Truth be told, most absentee and deadbeat fathers will always be just that. I’m not trying to be cynical, it’s just the hard truth. I believe that the Lord can change hearts and I believe that some men will come to their senses, but most will continue in their cycles of neglect and substance abuse.
No, what fatherless children need is a miracle in the form of you and of me. They need someone who will play with them, talk to them eye to eye, and be safe and consistent. You don’t have to join the foster system (though that would be amazing) or rearrange your life. You just have to learn to keep your eyes open and let them into your life.
I was blessed to have a couple of men in my life that accepted me as I was, affirmed me, corrected me, and didn’t abandon me when I was being a tool. I believe it’s one of the reasons that I’ve been married for 24 years and my kids still like me (most days).
My prayer for us today is that we pause when we see the lonely, the abandoned, the fatherless. That we won’t be too quick to be about our business, and that we’ll walk with them long enough for them to see what a good man looks like and lives like.
That happened back in 1990 (or so). Our mom made us go down to the Sears portrait studio. I’m pretty sure we got into a fight shortly before the sitting, but dang it, we were going to look like loving brothers whether we liked it or not!
We have a tradition around our house. We practice this tradition every Monday and it has changed us for the better. Because of this tradition, there’s a greater sense of peace in our home, we’re a closer family, and we’ve learned some incredible things along the way. When this tradition was first suggested to us by some friends of ours, I kind of shrugged it off. But my wife persisted, and boy am I glad she did!
So what it this miracle tradition?
We call it Media Fast Monday.
On Mondays, the TV does not get turned on, the computer is only used for work and school, and video games are off limit. It’s only for one day out of the week, but it makes a massive difference!
Here are a few of the benefits we’ve gained:
1. We get more reading in. If you never seem to have time to read, you’d be surprised at how many books you can devour by simply spending one night a week with a book. I could write an entire post about the difference reading makes, so dive in!
2. We spend quality time as a family. Let’s be honest, time together around the TV set really isn’t quality time. With the TV off, we play games together, work on art projects, and have fun interacting. The kids don’t dread Media Fast Monday, they look forward to it!
3. Our marriage is stronger. Again, time around the TV together really isn’t that quality, and good, quality one on one time usually leads to MORE one on one time with the spouse (if you catch my meaning). Turning the TV off has made us better lovers :-).
4. Fasting Media has a detoxifying effect. With the TV off, I tend to feel less anxious, the house is quieter, and having less stimulation helps to clear the brain and calibrate my thoughts. I often do my best writing during a media fast.
I want to challenge you to give it a try for six weeks. It may sound radical but it really is a small price to pay for the benefits you gain. Don’t give in to the temptation to work late on Monday nights or preoccupy yourself with going out with friends or doing household maintenance projects. Use the time to strengthen your family relationships, your mind, and your spirit.
Let me know what you think! Do you think you’ll try it? Do you do something similar? Tell me about it!
Christmas is almost here and my kids are exploding with anticipation!
I totally love their enthusiasm! They go around the house singing Christmas carols, talking about what Christmas day is going to be like, even dancing! It’s powerfully cute and it reminds me of myself at 7 years old.
The other day one of my boys came up to me and gave me a hug. While he was hugging me, I felt something wet on my face. I looked up to see that he was crying.
“Why are you crying?” I asked
“I just love you so much at Christmas time.” He said. I’m not sure why the fact that it’s Christmas time moved him to tears when he loved on me but I almost wept myself.
I have to admit, I’ve been thinking an awful lot how I wish I felt the same way. Instead of anticipation, I tend to just go through the motions. Christmas can feel like so many additions to my task list, instead of a wonderful celebration.
All of this eager expectation that my children are experiencing reminds me of a very important time in my life.
I was in my late teens and I was soaking up God like a sponge. I was reading through the Bible for the first time, attending church every time the doors were open, and serving in the youth ministry.
I remember the anticipation I would feel as I pulled into the parking lot of our fellowship. I could hear the music coming from inside as I walked through the parking lot. My pace would quicken and my heart would beat harder while I stepped through the doors. I just knew I was going to encounter God there, and I did!
I spent many nights crying out to God for his touch on my life. I prayed so hard for Him to use me. I also shed countless tears as I thought about how much He loved me and I did my best to express how much I loved Him in return.
Much like Christmas, I tend to lose my faith anticipation a lot these days. I don’t run from the car to the church doors expecting a touch from Jesus, I often see many of my faith practices as things to check off a task list, and I can’t remember the last time I wept at the thought of His amazing love.
It’s no wonder I pray the words of Keith Green’s song “My Eyes are Dry” so often.
My eyes are dry. My faith is old.
My heart is hard. Prayers are cold.
What can be done for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine.
The oil is you; your Spirit of love.
Please wash me anew in the wine of your blood.
Just as my kids anticipate Christmas, I long to anticipate intimacy with the Father in my life. THAT’S what I want for Christmas! Anticipation. Expectancy! A hunger for Jesus that supersedes regimen, fatigue, and whatever else the miles have left encrusted on the wheel wells of this aging hot rod.
That’s my prayer for you and for me; that we would be granted the gift of anticipation. That we would approach our faith like kids on Christmas eve. That we would get our hopes up, that our pulses would quicken when we walk into a prayer meeting, and that we would cry tears of gratitude when we worship.
My writing teacher gave me this assignment and I had a ton of fun putting it together. I figured I’d share it with you here since I got a laugh out of it (the self-effacing tone is meant to be humorous, not glum). Please ignore the citations since I didn’t include the bib with this post. Enjoy!
Living With Forrest Lee Bezotte
My name is Forrest. It’s not a very common name. In fact, my parents gave it to me with no intention of ever calling me by it. They wanted to call me Lee and liked the name Forrest as a middle name. Ultimately, they decided that “Forrest Lee” rolled off the tongue a little easier so they went with that (Hackbarth). My name has always been a blessing and a curse, but I live with it because it could be much worse.
I’m OK with having a somewhat uncommon name, even though research shows that people with uncommon names are perceived to have “undesirable characteristics” (Kalist and Yee 39). I’m sure if research was done specifically on the name Forrest, they would find that it is associated with extreme blandness, an admittedly “undesirable characteristic” but not entirely unacceptable.
Other research points to names having a predictive power for a person’s lifetime outcomes (Aura and Hess 226). I’m going to predict this person’s lifetime outcome as, again, bland. Blandness is not such a bad thing in my opinion. After all, there has never been a major crime figure named Forrest. I can’t recall anyone universally disliked with that name either. However, there are celebrities, such as Forrest Tucker from F Troop and Forrest Sawyer the news caster, who are equally as bland yet very well liked.
The downside to being an amicable, yet bland, chap name Forrest is that you tend to get left off the list when guests are being considered for a wild party. I imagine those party planners making their list and having a conversation somewhat like this;
“Who should we invite?”
“How about Bobby? He’s crazy!”
“Great idea! What about Stacy? She cracks me up!”
“And don’t forget Jim. He brings the best food.
“Absolutely! What about that one guy, uh… Forrest?”
As liked as I’ve been over my lifetime, I’ve never been thought of as a must-have at anyone’s party.
As you could imagine, I have been given different nicknames over the years that were inspired by the name Forrest. One of my uncles calls me Jungle. He finds it clever to refer to me as a wooded area since my name rhymes with Forest. Another of my uncles uses the moniker Trees for me. These nicknames really aren’t so inappropriate considering the meaning of my name.
The name Forrest means “from the woods”. I remember when I discovered that. I was looking through a big book of names hoping to find some profound insight or a discovery that my name meant something powerful and compelling. While other names had meanings like “noble”, “strong”, and “prosperous”, mine insinuated that I was birthed beneath some foliage. Dorothy Astoria writes in “The Name Book” that my name means “Guardian of the Forrest” (113). That meaning conjures thoughts of strength, purpose, and nobility in my imagination. I like it much better than simply “from the woods”.
When my oldest son was born, we decided to pass the name Forrest on to him. We even committed to calling him by that name. Little did we know that there was a movie in theaters, that was growing in enormous popularity, called “Forrest Gump”. I didn’t think much about it until the fiftieth person asked, “Did you name him after the movie character?” Who names their children after movie characters? I’ve never known anyone to name their son Luke Skywalker. Often, when I give my first name, the listener asks,
“Like Forrest Gump?”
and I want to respond with, “No, like Forrest Gregg, offensive right tackle for the Green Bay Packers from 1958 to 1970.” (Profootballhof.com)
My absolute least favorite Forrest Gump reference is when someone shouts to me or my son, “Run Forrest! Run!” I look forward to the day when that film is all but forgotten. Dale Carnegie once wrote, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” (117). When it comes to the name Forrest, I’m not so sure.
My parents always called me by my middle name, Lee. In fact, almost everyone called me Lee from the time I was born. It was an easy name to be a kid with. It was easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and still not terribly common. I was always the only one with my name in all my classes and no one thought it was strange. There was a popular actor, named Lee Majors, that was considered rugged and handsome so I had the added advantage of having a little star power behind my name.
The downside to the name Lee was that it rhymes with pee. Other children gave me nicknames like Lee Pee and Lee Pee the Bumblebee. When they really wanted to tease me, they’d yell, “Lee Pee the Bumblebee sitting in a Potty Tree.” I have no idea what a Potty Tree is or why a person would want to sit in one, but the neighborhood bullies seemed to be authorities on them.
When I was in college, I worked at a radio station delivering the news, weather, and occasional song dedication. There I used Forrest as my first name and Lee as my last name, being known on the air as “Forrest Lee”. I felt like it sounded distinguished and I carried that alias with me into some film work. To this day, when my agent calls, she asks to speak to Forrest Lee.
I’m glad my parents decided to call me Lee. I feel like a Lee. I see myself as a Lee, though the name’s meaning isn’t much better than that of Forrest. It means “from the meadow”, which again insinuates that I was birthed beneath some foliage.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 33,074 other Forrests in this country (howmanyofme.com) and I wonder if they’ve had similar experiences as my son and myself. I wonder if they go by their middle names or proudly announce “Forrest” when asked to identify themselves. I wonder if it’s been a blessing and a curse for them and I wonder if they’ve come to accept all that comes along with such a strong, unique name.
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