Thursday, October 15, 2009


Last night I walked from our church fellowship hall, where I had just eaten dinner, across a parking lot to the main church building. Martin had headed over there as soon as he finished his meal. I expected to find him tucked in a corner of his Sunday school room reading Curious George books. Instead, I opened the doors and heard his voice calling out, "6...7...8...9...10. Ready or not, here I come!" There were children zipping everywhere, finding spots to hide. A few seconds later, Martin ran around the corner. "I'm looking for the kids, mama," he yelled. And then he disappeared up a staircase. I couldn't believe it.

Though I usually don't try to understand these things (not because I'm not interested, but because they are mysterious), I really want to know why Martin could play hide-and-seek with a dozen kids last evening when he can't seem to make friends easily in his kindergarten class. He sees those kids every day. They are closer to him in age. They have tons of activities they could do together. Instead, he feels more comfortable roaming the church halls, chasing and being chased, yelling at the top of his lungs.

I often wonder if we're doing the right thing by not pressing Martin too hard to learn classroom routines. Some folks urge us to push in that direction, out of concern for his ability to continue in school. Out of concern that most of us, someday, have to learn to play by the world's rules if we want to find educational accomplishment and a job. But this path is something I've always questioned, even before I had a kid on the spectrum. Having an autistic child brings all of these questions into sharper focus. If we want him to find that sort of success, it will take a lot more work. On the other hand, if we're willing to let him be himself, we have to commit to being there to support him if the world isn't exactly accepting. It's hard to know what to do. But to invoke Niebuhr (and I do this begrudgingly because I think he's wrong, wrong, wrong on so much else), ethics is not figuring out what to do, but figuring out what is going on. That, to me, seems hard enough.

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