So, I had a doctor appointment this morning. Because it was a new doctor for me, they asked me a lot of different questions about my medical history and that of my family. None of it was surprising to me. That is, until they asked if anyone in my family had any birth defects. I thought about it for a moment and said I couldn't think of any. The nurse then began to name a long list of possible conditions that would belong in this category.
Cystic Fibrosis...Sickle Cell...Down Syndrome...Cerebral Palsy...Spina Bifida...Autism...
Back. The. Truck. Up.
Autism? As a birth defect? Are you serious? This completely threw me for a loop. I stammered a bit. Well, yes, there is autism in our family. But never in a million years would I have thought of it as a birth defect! Which is exactly what I told the nurse. It was an awkward moment, and she tried to offer an explanation, but I stopped her. I told her it was ok, I just don't think of it that way. Frankly, any explanation she would have tried to give me would have only made it worse.
My son is not defective. He is not damaged. He is not flawed. He is not less-than-whole. He is uncommon. And the nature of his uncommonness presents challenges to him and to those who interact with him. But just because we don't fully understand autism doesn't mean that it is a defect! Who knows, perhaps it is an evolution! Perhaps, as my pastor suggested just a few days ago, it is a glimpse into the wonder of God's creation. He proposed that autism gives us a peak into the vastness of the capacity of the human mind as it was originally created, before sin entered the world and fouled up all manor of things.
It is our nature to want to categorize things. We want everything to fit into neat little patterns and hierarchies. When everything fits into its proper pigeon hole we feel that we understand where we stand. We feel that we are in control. But this is an illusion. We can't control life. We can't contain misfortune. We can't bottle difficulty. And in trying to do so, all we manage to do is build walls between people. We tell our children there is an "us" and a "them." Anyone who is not like me is "other." Anyone who doesn't do things like I do is "defective."
Well, let me just set the record straight. My son is not defective. He is not other. He is not wrong. He just is. He doesn't need to be fixed. He needs to be loved and understood and supported. He needs to be valued, encouraged, and protected.