My son’s many distinctions lie in the little things. There are the little things he does – flapping his arms, clicking when he speaks, stiffening with excitement; and there are the little things he doesn’t do – fastening a belt, recognizing a pattern, making eye contact. These can be imperceptible to the uninitiated eye (and therefore give rise to the well-intentioned but misguided, “there’s nothing wrong with him” proclamation that many parents of young, high functioning autistics must endure. More on that, later). These little things distinguish him as “cute” or “unique” (which he is), but they are also the things that in part, helped constitute his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Though small, they are often the things that matter most.
Every day of Noah’s dressing for school is a struggle, including a screaming match about why he needs to wear a belt or a shirt with buttons. “They’re too hard!” my 7 year old son will yell. And patiently, my husband kneels on the floor to help him with each hole. When he meets someone, there is usually a round of flapping, and a loud, “nice to meet you!” So I quietly remind him that he must shake hands, lower his voice, and look his new friend in the eye.
In HBO’s biography “Temple Grandin,” a patient mother (Julia Ormond) is sitting on the stairs with flashcards and a blank-faced Temple. “Dog” she says, showing her daughter the card. Temple looks away. Her mother takes her by the face and again shows her the card. “Temple, Do-og.” Temple, a child with Asperger’s who didn’t speak until she was four, later went on to get her Ph.D. and now lectures around the word on Autism. Many times, she has thanked her mother for her persistence and dedication in doing all the little things that helped Temple succeed in a neuro-typical world.
I would rather do a very challenging thing once, than do a less-challenging thing multiple times a day. I’m better at rallying when one large, temporary obstacle is in my path than when the file of life has worn my husband and me to our sorest spots and we are faced with repetition of the same practiced instruction. So I meditate on the parable of the bags of gold in Matthew: “’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 5:21)
I prepare Noah for adulthood through my persistence in the little things. In so doing, I please the Lord as well.