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!
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