David and Mercedes Rizzo consider unexpected lessons they learned about love from their daughter, who has autism.
In the month of February, love certainly seems to be in the air. Valentine’s Day is a popular day for people to get engaged or married. Flowers and candy make their rounds, not to mention Valentine’s Day cards. It’s a month of cards, dinners, and flowers. It is a month to celebrate love.
In this spirit, we think back to our wedding day and how the priest asked us if we would accept children lovingly from God. We have four children and know that they are a blessing and bring much joy into our life. When our daughter Danielle was born, we imagined many things, including how beautiful she would be on her own wedding day.
However, things turned out much differently. Danielle has autism. God had other plans for her, which are just as beautiful and just as grand.
Since love is in the air this month it’s a great time to reflect on this passage from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7)
But these are not just words on a paper. They are essential ingredients for all of our relationships. Like any couple we expected that bad times would be few, and we would have mostly good times. But in the early years of raising a child with autism the bad times seemed to outnumber the good. We forgot that if love was patient, then we would have to be patient too. Although it wasn’t apparent at the time, Danielle was making slow but steady progress. In time prayers would be answered and we would witness miracles. We learned that we had to trust that good times were already unfolding, even when it is hard to see that this is happening.
People with special needs show love in their lives and touch so many of us. Love can be demonstrated in many ways. Recently, we saw a beautiful act of love when someone with special needs was pushing one of his friends who uses a wheelchair on his way to a meal. Our daughter Danielle can have difficulty communicating love, mostly because of her lack of language. But this did not stop her from showing love in non-verbal ways. She smiles, gives hugs and will laugh joyously.
Danielle shows love with augmentative communication when she uses her iPad to call people in her lives by name. She has to put forth extra effort to do this because she has to go through many screens and search for the proper picture icons to select. She frequently says, “It’s nice to see you,” “How are you?” and “Have a nice day.” She also shows love to others by volunteering and helping out wherever she can. Mostly, she shows love by being herself.
As St. Paul tells us, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” It’s February and love is in the air. So let’s also remember these words from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:
Being loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: (top) Canva; all others copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.
About the Author
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).