Sunday, November 22, 2009


Words like "heal" and "cure" spark furious debate in the autism community. Some folks claim that their children have been "cured" by therapies ranging from the physical to the behavioral. Others retort that autism is never cured, but rather is lived with and coped with through various strategies. Some people on the spectrum, particularly folks with Asperger's, say that they wouldn't want a cure even if there was one. The talents and weaknesses that stem from their place on the spectrum are integral parts of who they are. Who would they even be if they got cured?

I don't really talk about autism cures. When Jenny McCarthy comes up in conversation I stare down as if there is something really compelling on my plate or in my glass. I just don't want to think about. Even more, I don't want to argue about it.

But I did have to think about it during the last few weeks. My pastor has preached a series of sermons on episodes of healing in the gospel accounts. This morning, the series ended with an opportunity for people to receive anointing and ask for prayers of healing. I don't want Martin to be someone different than he is. But at the same time, I do wish he did not have to struggle to communicate. I wish he never had to be confused about what we say or expect for him. I wish it wasn't hard for him to navigate a school day. I wish he knew what to say each time another child asks him to play.

After the service, I went over to talk to my friend, Lois, who is fighting a very serious battle with cancer. In the three years I've known her, I have witnessed her incredibly generous and hopeful approach to people and life. Throughout her treatments, she has evinced admirable strength and courage. She was anointed today. Martin was not. I told her that I wasn't sure if it would be the right thing, if a cure for autism was the thing to hope for. She looked at me and said, "But wouldn't it be awesome for God to do it, to take away his difficulties?"

When I think about it, many of Martin's difficulties have subsided significantly in the last year and a half. He is happier now. He is frustrated less often. Tonight, he played with a house full of kids and had a wonderful time. That didn't happen two years ago. I've attributed this change to the hard work of therapists and teachers, to the countless hours of one-on-one time that it takes to make a difference in autistic kids' lives. But I shouldn't shut out the possibility that there has been something called healing as well. I've always thought of the work as mine and my husband's and Martin's teachers. But maybe God is working in this as well.


  1. Jen, I have thought of you and Martin through this series on healing. I agree with your questions. It would be hard for me to balance the wish that the world would be more accepting of his differences with the desire for some of those differences to be ameliorated. I also think that I tend not to ask for healing for things that I have no "medical" cure for. Like there can only be healing through my particular paradigm. This morning's service reminds me that there are many paths to healing. Carry on! Hannah

  2. Jen, I have struggled to understand what true "healing" is recently myself. One reflection that has been somewhat eye opening in my journey is that I am the one who needs healing--constantly. Not something I really want to be faced with most of the time, so I only let it surface occasionally.
    Also, I have recently been with a Rabbi who pointed out that we as humans are the name of God walking around. YHVH in Hebrew lined up vertically is in the shape of the human body. Someone traced these letters on my body in a powerful exercise where I realized I embody God. Not only that, so does everyone else! It has helped me to begin to shift how I see people now--their angel comes ahead to greet my angel.
    I hear your struggle about Martin being "healed" from who he is--a wonderful image of YHVH. Could it be that I might be healed from my afflictions by simply being with this holy creature? I hope to someday have the pleasure of meeting Martin in person.

  3. That was quite the comment by Jeni. I told the story in a recent sermon of working at a group home and meeting a women who only said "Get me coffee, bitch!' If you sat with this women she would immediately take your hand. As I got to know her story a bit better I learned that for almost her entire life she had lived in a large state facility, where she shared a room with another women, and they held hands all day, every day for 15 years. It is hard to discount the significance and the lesson of that kind faithfulness. This, of course, is an extreme example, but still,healing can't be a repudiation of what is already manifestly good. Healing has to be understood against a norm larger than the normalizing of societies or institutions, norms which are so often disabling. Whatever sort of new creation might occur in the eschaton for the women I refer to certainly the goodness created in extremis will not be repudiated or negated... but powerfully activated... and for you and Martin as well!