"Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism" excerpt by Janele Hoerner (CatholicMom.com) As my eyes adjusted to the brightness that surrounded us and witnessed the last few drops of rain fall upon the surrounding landscape, high upon the loft in which we were sitting, I was astounded to be overlooking the magnificent ocean from such an amazing viewpoint. With thoughts immediately bombarding my awareness, I was convinced once again that I must be dreaming; yet, I was fully awake. Could this be real? Were we finally in safety? In a true place to rest, breathe, and delight in life? In watching the clouds dissipate around us, we could clearly see for miles into the breathtaking panoramic views that seemed to make the climb completely worthwhile. Walking closer to my son who had found a small hill to roll down, the breath left my lungs in awe. There, just ahead in the valley were more children, and they were all happily playing and interacting with my son. While observing the children spinning, dancing, and giggling alongside each other, an extraordinary peace filled me as I began to feel whole for the first time in my life. Watching them enjoying each other’s company in the sunlight, I observed them all pile on top of the man who I had stumbled upon along our journey. I could not help smiling from ear to ear. Following after the laughter, clearing our own path deeper into the valley, we eventually came upon the security we had been searching for all along. Surveying the perfect lot of land, we excitedly began to build ourselves a home amongst the surrounding landscape. First and foremost, we attempted to build our new valley home on a sturdy foundation, one that felt secure enough to stand for years to come. A home which housed our most precious possessions, our family of six with room to expand. Reclining back after a long day of work, I admired the grand view that I was blessed in experiencing, while in the same moment, I reflected back at all of the struggles that we had recently overcome. Amazed at what we were capable of conquering with the help of God alone, I vowed to place my life henceforth into His hands. In my promise, I gave Him my word that although my life may at times feel out of my own control, by always remaining aware of the ocean below us and the skies above us, I would henceforth trust that with our lives in His hands we would always be led to overcome any additional storms that may be hurled our way. Lying down in a soft bed of rose petals that had fallen to their grassy bed from the surrounding bushes, I stared up into the charming sky as the rumbles and flashes of light out in the distance were mixed among a serene pale array of colors. I fell into a dreamlike state listening to the chirping of the birds mixed with a multitude of childhood laughter. I had a hard time consciously remembering how we even came to be on this journey in the first place. Although I did not understand why I was not blessed to sit upon a calm ocean beach with some surrounding families at the water’s edge, none of that any longer seemed important now that I was given the life that was in front of us. A life full of acceptance, love, stability, and peace; a life I never exactly envisioned for myself yet was the one I was led to by putting my trust in the one who mattered most of all. ♥ Life can present many difficult scenarios in our lifetimes that in the moment seem quite close to impossible to overcome. Yet, it is in those exact situations that we learn to rise above. In the pure heart of a childhood dream of the future family that I may have had, I never considered that any of my children would be anything other than adorable. Disease, physical impairments, neurological conditions, they were just something that happens to other people, not me. Within my current world, some part of me always believed that I could do no wrong, yet as time passed I saw how childish my own actions proved to be. As it seemed, before I had my firstborn child I did not think of anyone other than myself, even though I would have argued to the end that I cared about everyone around me. Though, quite quickly all my previous thoughts changed in the months after I discovered that I was carrying a precious baby. Even though I had always believed that some aspects of my life would evolve once I had children, I never would have been able to grasp all of the ways in which I would transform at my innermost core, deep within my entire body as well as my soul. In addition, as a woman, I felt I could predict how I would feel the first time I held my own child in my arms. I was not, however, even close to understanding the capacity of those feelings. I was not prepared for the rush of love that I initially felt for that tiny soul relying fully on my care. It was an indescribable and awe inspiring feeling to finally meet and hold a child who I had been carrying inside my body for an almost an entire year. A mother is the first to learn that they are carrying a new life, the first to hold that new life, be sleep deprived by that new life, and experience a deeper sense of love than she ever thought possible. It does not matter to the mother who that little baby will become someday or even what that child will eventually look like. What matters is that the child lying in their mother’s arms is quite exceptionally perfect. The reason why a mother is so needed by their children is because of this inborn unconditional love that I believe most fathers are not privileged to feel. A parent’s attentive love and devotion is what is ultimately needed by all children regardless of age or specific condition because first and foremost a child craves to be loved. Yet in discovering and accepting that all children crave to be loved in diverse ways, our family transformed within our midst. Even though, at first, we attempted to hug our son tight, take him on unplanned fun adventures, and treat him as a typical child, we discovered that we were sending his body into sensory overload as a result. As the weather changed and sent us running for our lives up a cold, dark, and unending mountain, we slowly found ways in which to give our child the exact kind of love that his body could accept. A love not of physical cuddles and affection, but a love based on logic and intellectually articulated truth. Yes, it was incredibly hard to change what I wanted to do for my child into what my child needed to have from me, but by accepting that each and every child is unique in their own mind, I was led to find the exact parenting strategies to calm the stormy skies around us. Watching the skies change to only light rumbles and flashes of light as our hurricane passed and we finished climbing the mountain full of what felt like unending pain and trials, we were given the most magnificent gift. This gift was not what the world says we should desire, yet this gift was exactly what can change us all into the most glorious beings that we could ever be. A gift given to the select few individuals who are open to transforming their heart into what another needs moment by moment. A love developed by that process, I believe, is all it takes to open each of our lives to delve into the interior life of all typical and atypical individuals in order to better understand the actions at their core. Although at times it seemed that no one else’s life was harder than our own, as we were elevated to a higher level of thinking, we felt most of our earthly desires leave. In accepting that our lives may never be full of blue skies all of the time, I believe that when and if the new storm clouds roll in, we will know that not one of them will ever seem as hard now that we have surrendered our lives to a new purpose. Our eyes were eventually opened to know that our lives were not being taken from us. Instead, we learned what we could give for our child’s benefit.  We were led to accept that we were not failing him as parents; we were, in fact, becoming the best parents that he needed us to be within the current moment. In the end, I feel as if we are succeeding in raising a wonderful well-rounded child who, despite his special needs, exudes joy by his presence. He may have a different way of expressing himself and a contrasting way as to what makes him feel secure and at peace, but those facts alone do not make him any less of an individual. Our son is making an amazing impact on his world to date. He excels at his school work, passionately loves his family in his own way, and inspires to become a priest to change the world one heart at a time. My husband and I could not be more proud of him, and I cannot wait to see how the rest of his life enfolds. Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism is available at Amazon.com.

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Copyright 2020 Janele Hoerner