"Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism" excerpt by Janele Hoerner (CatholicMom.com) Love was all I wanted to give. I desired to cradle my little child and read endless stories on our couch, play at the park for hours, and take quiet walks while we discovered the world together. Nothing about our lives was quiet and peace-filled though. Those quiet walks I craved were exhausting because our son refused to sit in a stroller, let alone to take a breath between words. The toys that mounted around him and equipment at the park bored him, as he would rather collect sticks, then count, and throw them. Those books I wanted to read my child were whipped from my grasp after the first page, in the time that he was scrambling off to the next thing. I shed multiple tears over the life I believed I had wanted but was drained by.

At the time of his 1st birthday, I was so proud of what we had endured thus far and where we were headed in our lives. We rented out a venue to celebrate this wonderful child’s year on earth, and all of our close family attended. With my mom’s help, I made multiple cakes, each in the shape of a letter in his name. Gracin sat in the center of the room, at the head of a table, happily digging into the first piece of cake. He had an intense look of happiness mixed with over-stimulation in his eyes, as he viewed it as his mission to make everyone laugh hysterically at him.

He truly captivated the utmost attention of everyone at the party, responding to any requests that were made of him. I had never seen a baby hold a crowd’s attention as he did that day. He talked on and on to everyone with his extensive vocabulary using some of his favorite terms like screwbiby (screwdriver), whateber (whatever), and DaddynMama (his one word combination created for us). He always made you feel special being in his presence. It was an amazing day and marked the beginning of his next stage of development.

After the effect of the year one celebration concluded, life went back to a somewhat normal, yet chaotic, state. Our lives were busy as I was taking care of Gracin, attending classes, planning a wedding, and helping to renovate our future home. With my child in tow for almost all of my endeavors, there was very little down time. The time I did schedule into our day for rest, was really just me fighting with him to lie down and sleep.

As the effects of not sleeping were starting to take their toll on my body, I watched as my appetite left, my body dropped to an unhealthy weight, and I got dizzy upon any physical exertion. Throughout the night, during the one-hour increments of sleeping, I laid propped up on my bed with a pillow continuously nursing my child. With one arm I held his body as he fed in his sleep, and with the other I studied with a tiny light illuminating my book or computer.

I believed in breastfeeding on demand, but after following what I thought was best for him, I began to realize it had to be best for me also. I could not break his latch without waking him up, and he would not fall asleep without nursing in my arms. I was left baffled at how this arrangement was somehow working for my tiny son because I felt like I was living in a fog.

One sleepless night I gave in to a late night impulse buy when an ad popped up on my computer screen. It was an oversized rocking chair with room for two. It had plush seating and a matching rocking ottoman, which in my mind could double as a bed. To my dismay, this chair did not lead to Gracin sleeping more; however, upon his hourly awakening, all I had to do was start rocking to help him drift back to sleep without his eyes opening. As a result, I received just a little more sleep, and I also discovered how much this little boy cherished being rocked.

Therefore, rocking became a huge part of our daily routine, and I was filled with some well-deserved quiet moments where I could simply hold and cherish my busy little boy. Reclining in our chair, he would lie still as could be for a minute or two as I gently swayed back and forth. This bonding time was heaven sent in my time of need to experience calm with my child, even if it was only for such short periods of time.

Although, as life happened and time passed, the rocking-chair-quiet was not enough to hold his interest. It began to bore him, and I needed to find something to extend those sessions of sitting peacefully with Gracin throughout the day. At first I tried watching TV with him or reading books, but those activities did not hold his interest in the least bit. I tried playing games like Patti Cake and singing nursery songs, but they just stimulated him all the more.

In one final attempt to extend these elements, I began to pray out loud while I tussled his hair with my fingers. At first, he pushed my hand away and started to get down, but he quickly turned his body around and said, “Sing again.” With tears in my eyes, I placed Gracin beside me once again and began to sing some prayers to him.

In observing my Grandmother say her prayers later that day, I watched again as my little child climbed into her lap to rock with her. I observed how the meditations combined with the continuous rocking motion calmed his restless being. Her prayers did not change in tone. As a result, they were the perfect things for Gracin. In picking up a Rosary that night, I sat with my son as I started singing the same recitation of prayers as my Grandmother had. Immediately, Gracin repeated the prayers with me, and as I gazed down at his tiny fingers grasping the beads, I was in awe at the moment I was just given.

After that God-given experience, I sat down in the rocking chair with him three times a day with the hope that we could get through the entire Rosary - about 15 minutes - without him jumping down. I felt so blessed to have such a wonderful little boy who seemed to be more devoted to prayer than I had recently been. In those quiet moments, as I would watch his chest slowly rise and fall and feel his fast-beating heart against my body, I would attempt to sing as slowly as possible. I wanted those moments to last just a few seconds longer before he was sliding down off of my lap. Each day as he slid down off of the chair and rounded the corner to the next thing, before I could even get to my feet, numerous questions flooded my mind. I would question why my son would sit still only for this particular time? Why could we not also sit and read an entire children’s book while rocking? Why did he move so fast and dart around like a racket ball thrown against the wall? Did I do something to make him like this?

I had been around at least a couple dozen children around his age in my life, and not one of them behaved as he did. All of those babies and young toddlers fell asleep in their mother’s arms with little to no effort. They could then be placed either in their crib, a swing, or a bed, and there they would remain asleep for another hour or even two. Why was this child not the same? I could count on one hand how many times Gracin had been asleep in his crib. He could never be put down after falling asleep in your arms; he required you to also take a nap with him attached to you. This child was complex. He was unique. Gracin, in my opinion, was just plain exhausting. As the thoughts continued to envelop my mind, one thing was for sure, repetition was the key for calming this child, and I was thankful to find that the Rosary was the perfect answer for us.

Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism is available at Amazon.com.

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Copyright 2019 Janele Hoerner