Being the parent of a child with autism is not anything either of us would have chosen. In fact, you might say we went into it kicking and screaming, like any other parents faced with the same situation. During the diagnostic process 10 years ago we questioned whether the diagnosis of autism was accurate. After all, David had a history of late talking, and we were both confident that our daughter would soon develop speech and prove all the experts wrong. However, as time went on and speech never developed, we knew the diagnosis was true, and we found ourselves left to navigate the uncharted waters of autism.
Looking back now, we realize that our spirituality was immature. When faced with a life-altering event, one relies on what one knows. We thought if we took Danielle to shrines of our favorite saints, attended healing services, touched her with holy relics, and recited rosaries and novenas that our prayers would be answered in exactly the way we wanted. We called on such formidable saints as St. Padre Pio and St. Jude. We did it all! We never passed up the opportunity to ask for a cure. We thought we could bargain with God but, of course, God doesn’t work that way. Although there was nothing wrong with the practices we tried and our intentions were sincere, God had other plans.
God seemed to be showing us a different way of understanding. Our daughter’s lack of verbal language led us to adopt a more image-based and picturesque approach to prayer. Our spirituality became more intuitive and sacramental. We began to see Danielle’s lack of words as an image of God’s silence and a place to encounter the mystery and meaning in our lives. It became clear to us that God was revealing himself in a way we never could have imagined. It also became clear that Danielle was part of this plan, touching the lives of so many she encountered. Ultimately, Danielle’s autism led us in a new direction— helping children with disabilities and their parents to grow in the faith and participate fully in the sacraments of the Church. We have learned to trust God and the vision God has for our family.