I have avoided writing about something I think about a great deal when it comes to Emma and her autism.  It is something some people bring up when they hear of Emma.  Thankfully most people do not.

It is – God.

There, I’ve said it.

When Emma was first diagnosed more than a few people said things like, “Everything happens for a reason.”  The first time I heard that comment I felt as though someone had punched me in the solar plexus.  The air was knocked out of me.  I stood there as they went on about whatever they believed, the reasons they felt this had happened, but I couldn’t hear them.  I watched their mouths open and shut, forming words, but they may as well have been speaking in another language.

The second time someone evoked God, as in, “We only get what we can handle,”  followed by, “God must think you very strong.”   I had the where-with-all to reply, “You might want to check the current suicide rates, as clearly the God you believe in, is giving those people far more than they can handle.”  And then I walked away.  Touche.

These comments, the ones that upset me the most always refer to God.  People with strong, solid faith seem to have a strength or determination that I do not possess.  It is more than a decision that’s been made, it seems they believe they have some sort of power, a knowledge the rest of us can only hope for.  They come across as knowing, as though they had a special private line to God, a kind of state of the art communication device that the rest of us do not own.  Perhaps what they do not understand is how superior they seem or perhaps they do, I don’t know.  I know most are trying to be kind.  That they are not, does not seem to occur to them.

When people have said to me, “I could never handle having an autistic child,” and then they go on to their next thought – “It makes me think we are given what we can handle.”  I understand what they are trying to say, they are expressing their relief that their children are neuro-typical.  “There but for the grace of God go I.”  I know someone who I like very much who made just such a comment, I was surprised when she said it, but I knew she hadn’t meant it to be cruel.  I know many people don’t know what to say when confronted with something that frightens them.  Disease, terminal illness, death, what can any one of us say?  Most of us do want to express our sorrow, we want to be there for the person who is going through the difficult time.  We want to bond with them, show them we are there for them.  Often our attempts are nothing short of just lame.  We end up saying something stupid, we walk away thinking to ourselves – Boy that was dumb.  Why did I say that?  But when people bring God into the mix, as though they need to bolster their thoughts, then it becomes more complicated and hurtful.

I get it.

I do.  I know none of the people who have said these things have meant harm.  They mean quite the opposite.  Still I wish they would think through their comments before they utter them.

For more on my family’s journey through my daughter, Emma’s childhood of autism, go to:

One response to “Autism

  1. God of the Gaps. The concept of a god who is brought front and center to explain the unexplainable. As you say, these people are all well-meaning. They want to be supportive and they don’t know how. Nobody does. Just to be there at your side, silently, just listening, is perhaps the most any of us can do.

    A personal God is invoked whenever a rational explanation is not available, and it serves as a comfort, not for the person who is living with tragedy, but for the bystander who feels called upon to say something, anything, that will explain the unknowable to themselves. Perhaps they know they can’t convince you, perhaps they’re just hoping they can convince themselves.

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