My son has autism and can’t connect with others

August 25th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 25 comments

Question:

I have been listening to your podcasts & have found them to be very informative & fascinating. I just listened to your episode of 2/20/16 about Jewish attitudes towards money, business, etc. I was saddened, though, as I heard you discuss the 10 Commandments in terms of God’s 5 Commandments about “connections”. I am the mother of a young adult autistic son who has never been (and most likely will never be) able to connect to people well enough to make a friend, hold a job, or lead what society considers a productive life.

As a Catholic Christian, I believe my son has dignity as a child created in the image of God. The inability to connect with others, though, is central to what it means to be autistic. It is a heartbreaking & serious lifelong condition that limits his ability to be a part of the world around him.

As you quoted from Genesis, God said,” It is not good for man to be alone,” but this is my son’s reality. How does Jewish wisdom respond to the unique challenges associated with autism? With autism becoming so much more prevalent, I wonder if you might address this topic for me & other families living with autistic family members.

Thank you so much & God bless you & your work!

Ann R.

Answer:

Dear Ann,

Thank you for trusting us with such a sensitive question. We completely agree with you that your son’s life has intrinsic value and dignity by virtue of being created in God’s image.

We can’t even imagine the time, money, tears and prayers you have invested in making sure that your son reaches his highest potential. You are probably living with two conflicting ideas; that of accepting reality, while not giving up hope.

There is a reason that doctors are discouraged from treating family members and why judges need to recuse themselves from trials if the issue under discussion is one in which they are personally involved. We understand that you filter everything you read or hear through your personal experience; we all do.

There are areas in the United States where newspaper ads for apartment rentals are forbidden to say, “great view,” because that is seen as being prejudiced against those who are blind. One may not advertise, “near schools,” because the powers that be see that as discouraging singles. We imagine that, like us, you see these type of laws as ridiculous. If we limit everything to exclude anything that might hurt anyone, we will need to stop speaking, acting and thinking. Our job on this earth is to do the best we can, not to do the impossible. God knows our limitations just as He knows our potential. If one door is closed to your son, others are open.

God granted us a Book that commands and extols having children. Yet He also creates some people who are infertile. There are commands in His Book, for things to see and hear, yet He creates people who can do neither.

Each of us is born with our challenges, though some of those challenges are greater and easier to see than others. It is sad and we are sure your have mourned your son’s (present) inability to connect with others. He may well be the vehicle for others to exhibit caring and compassion by connecting with him, even when he doesn’t reciprocate. He may have a share in pushing research on autism one step further so that in the future, others will be able to connect. We would venture to say that his difficulties have played a part in making you more sensitive to others, thereby increasing the interconnectedness of the world. His task may be to produce one quick look, one smile, one touch. We don’t know.

We do know that as long as God grants him life, he has a purpose in this world. It may be different from the role you hoped for him when he was in your womb, but it is the path chosen for him.

Allow yourself to be sad for what isn’t, but don’t focus on that. Strive for what is possible (and maybe a bit beyond that) and stay secure in the knowledge that your son’s life has value just as it is.

Wishing you joy,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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25 comments

Becky says:

Very insightful reply in a time when human life is often so little-valued. Thank you.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you for commenting.

Jean E Madison says:

Yes! Thank you for your reply about autism,since my 4 year old great-grandson has diagnosed with the malady.
Thank you for the Words of wisdom that you present on Ancient Jewish Wisdom program on TNT. Shalom JEM

I’m the Dad of a 24 year old Autistic son who is virtually identical to the description above. My question is this: how exactly do I recuse myself with his care? He is heartbreaking and frustrating and I see the wisdom in doing so, but I’m not sure how.

Susan Lapin says:

Brian, thanks for giving us a chance to clarify our words. We didn’t mean to recuse yourself from your son’s care. We meant that we each need to make an effort to pull back a little and not be so vulnerable to words or actions that magnify our problem areas. For example, someone going through fertility treatment should work on themselves to be able to congratulate a friend who just had a baby, rather than letting that event overwhelm them with sadness. (Easier said than done) The podcast comments on connecting, sadly, bring up Ann’s son’s limitations. We meant for her to recognize that and listen to those words as they apply to other parts of her life rather than hearing them as a comment on her son.

Kathy Switzer says:

Thank you so much for your reassuring answer to this mom, and to all of us moms who have special needs children. The truth in it resonates and speaks life. So refreshing.

Barbara Byrd says:

My son, now in his mid-thirties, has Aspberger’s Syndrome (high functioning autism). As a child and somewhat as an adolescent, he was difficult, quirky and socially awkward. His behavior started to improve as a young adult. He has grown into a kind, sensitive, hard working, determined man with many friends, a job, a car, a savings account and an apartment. He has more common sense than I do and is definitely better at budgeting money. He is a shining example of God’s grace and a gift to me, even though he does retain some of his early “quirkiness.” I could write a book about my son, Jordan, and it would have a happy ending!

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you for this inspiring comment. It is easy to have a narrow eye on the challenging childhood, but I have heard of more than one case of adults who function much better than their parents anticipated when they were young.

Susan Lapin says:

One of the sad things about the ‘pro-choice’ movement is that they don’t see how you cannot tell people to value life only when it is convenient.

Rick says:

Are these the Angels we are entertaining unaware?

Susan Lapin says:

They certainly are special souls.

Joanne says:

We recovered our son better than 90% from autism with the help of Sargent Goodchild in Beverly MA. His business is called Active Healing. I recommend checking out his service. My son was very low functioning and we recovered his speech and many abilities through careful diet and a process called chelation, but he still could not interact well enough to make and keep friends. After completing Sarge’s protocol my son was able to develop social connectivity. He now has a few good friends and a job on a farm at age 15. Praise Adonai!

Susan Lapin says:

Joanne, we’re so glad you had a good experience. Everyone needs to make their own judgments, but parents helping parents is valuable.

Sue says:

Angel Unaware… That one brings me back. Dale Evans wrote a book of that title about the Down’s Syndrome child they had, from the perspective of an “angel” reporting back to her Heavenly Father after her death. It is a very powerful book about seeing the value in lives that are challenging to us initially. As a teen I was deeply touched and have great empathy for all children who struggle with profound disabilities.

Susan Lapin says:

Dale Evans as in Roy Rogers?

Katherine Jackman says:

Yes, that’s the one 🙂

Gidon Ariel says:

Thank you for this sensitive and beautiful message. You have not disappointed:-)
Mazal tov also on your new site! At first glance, excellent job!

Susan Lapin says:

We are so excited about our new site. Still getting some kinks worked out, be we look forward to being able to do so much more than we were able to previously.

Louis Eisenhauer says:

As a young boy all I ever wanted was to be married and have children. The Master has graciously given my hearts desire and much more. I had two codicils to my request. 1. That I must live until all of them are grown (my dad died a long horrible death when I was 14, I nearly died the same way, but I was restored much like Job). 2. That my children would not be mentally or physically handicapped. I feared this, I didn’t know if I could handle it, I often cried when I was around special needs children.
Now, when I see families with special needs children I draw strength from their love and devotion. It is not just the child that may evoke connection, the love,patience and acceptance exhibited by the family makes our entire world stronger. Their struggles become our strength. You have no idea how you affect the people around you that you don’t know…I know, I am one of them. I appreciate all of the effort these beautiful families put into their caregiving….and, it is okay to get frustrated sometimes. YOU ARE EXAMPLES TO THE ENTIRE WORLD That we should all emulate to our neighbors.

Susan Lapin says:

I think most of us worry that we won’t be able to handle challenges. Amazingly, most people rise to their challenges. I’m glad your childhood prayers were answered.

Our son now 23-year-old son Trevor was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at age 5. We completely get the trials associated with raising an autistic child. We have learned to help him cultivate his passions and using those passion areas to help him grow in other areas. His two passion areas are movies and photography. He also wrote a book at age 19 about what it is like growing up autistic. He graduated from Arizona State University Cum Laude with a degree in Film & Media Studies. We have since hired him into our company as our media director where he focuses on writing movie reviews that incorporate autistic lessons, selling his pictures, and marketing his book on growing up autistic. He actively works on his socialization skills through things like his small group at church but he also recognizes that it is always going to be a struggle. My advice here is to persistently cultivate the passion areas and use the passion areas to help grow the areas that need work. It’s hard work but stamina is key. Keep at it!

Susan Lapin says:

What an inspiring post, Lonnie, and excellent advice. Please excuse me for removing your son’s website but we have a policy of not allowing links in comments. Anyone who wants to find your son can Google Trevor Pacelli.

Thank you Susan. We really want to encourage others and remind them of how important it is to keep stamina up and to persevere.

Lorena says:

Una dieta libre de caseina y gluten,y con un aporte de probioticos para mejorar la salud intestinal, es excelente para los chicos autistas,ademas de incorporar vegetales de todos los colores y alimentos integrales, el 50% de lo que coma por día debe ser frutas y verduras crudas.Evitar por completo alimentos refinados y procesados.
Dios creó dentro de la naturaleza todo lo que necesitamos para tener vida abundante.Bendiciones!!!!

(Google translate) A free of casein and gluten, and with a contribution of probiotics to improve gut health , diet is excellent for autistic children , in addition to incorporating vegetables of all colors and whole foods , 50 % of what you eat per day should be fruits and vegetables crudas.Evitar completely refined and processed foods .
God created in nature everything we need to have life abundante.Bendiciones !!!!

Susan Lapin says:

Lorena, We appreciate your perspective and desire to help others. Obviously, we (Lapins) aren’t promoting any recommendations, but we were tickled to get our first comment in Spanish.

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