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Unwrapped: The Gift of Autism

“AUTISM?”

I woke with this blaring in my mind. Could that be what Hannah has? I remembered a book I’d read years before about a girl with autism. I reread it. It was a perfect description of Hannah’s current condition. She had lost all language skills, cried and screamed for hours and was self-abusive.

Not long after this, we took Hannah to the Emergency Room for vomiting and dehydration. While there, she suddenly stopped breathing. The doctor had us leave the room as nurses rushed in with the crash cart.

The pastor prayed for Hannah just yesterday. God, didn’t you hear his prayer? Where are You? Don’t You hear my heart shattering?

Finally, we were allowed back in the room. Hannah was breathing again, but was severely lethargic. The doctor decided to have her airlifted to a larger hospital.

After five days and many tests, the Head of Pediatrics said, “Your daughter has a little digestive disorder, and a little seizure disorder, but we think she has something more globally going on.” I felt I was being handled with what he was saying…or…not saying.

I had to ask, “She has autism. Right?”

The doctor was stunned. “Autism is a very bad word. We won’t use that word unless we are certain. You need to let Hannah’s symptoms develop more. Then we can make a diagnosis.”

My emotions were a jumbled mess. However, I was certain of one thing – I wasn’t about to let the symptoms continue to develop.

By God’s grace, we found an amazing program: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Although it wasn’t easy, Hannah regained her language and made miraculous progress over the years. It was hard work and the days were intense.

Psalm 68:19 (ESV) says,

“Blessed be the Lord, Who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah”

He carried us through each day.

God bestowed many extraordinary gifts on us. He gave Hannah an amazing big sister. Mandy was always willing to help in the middle of the night when Hannah had seizures that always ended with vomiting. I’d bathe Hannah while Mandy cleaned the crib. This happened 6 – 8 times a night…every night…for months. Yet, Mandy would get up for school without complaint.

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God gave Mandy, the gift of Hannah. She prayed for a little sister for years. She worked with her, prayed for and encouraged her and celebrated each success with her. They have a profound understanding and devotion for each other.

God gave my husband, Dan, and I the gifts of our beautiful daughters. How can we help but be blessed when they both have loving, generous hearts and a passion to help people?

God gave us the gift of autism. How can autism be a gift? Because of its many positive effects, such as a strong desire to do what’s right, the ability to accept people as they are and a tenacious loyalty to family and friends.

Best of all, God gave us the gift of His Son. Mandy and Hannah both gave their hearts to Jesus at a young age, but Hannah was afraid to get baptized, because people with autism don’t like to have attention drawn to them. I believed God understood.

Hannah called me one day while attending Faith Christian Camp. “Mom, I’m gonna get baptized! We had the most amazing church service tonight and I rededicated my life to the Lord. I was a little embarrassed at first, because I’d start to get out of my chair, but then I’d sit back down. I did that a couple of times before I went up during the invitation. It’s just that my thoughts were going through my head so fast. I wanted to know what my heart was telling me. I wanted to know the real reason why I was going up. Finally, I realized that I’d been running away from God. I know I asked Jesus into my heart when I was seven; and I know you can only get saved once, but I really felt like I needed my faith to start over. After I rededicated my life to the Lord, I was happy.”

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I watched Hannah’s baptism through tears. Lord, would You look at our girl?  Look at all You’ve done!

Yes, God understood. He gave Hannah the gift of Jesus, but He also gave her the gift of being in the right place, with the right people, at the right time so she could fully give Him the gift of her heart. As she did, He gave her another gift – joy.

Let’s follow Hannah’s example. What are our hearts telling us about our relationship with Jesus? Let’s give Him a gift this year – the gift He desires and deserves: the gift of our whole hearts.
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marlene-deforrestMarlene is a wife to Daniel, a truly noble man; a mom to three adult children: Mandy, whose heart is purer than anyone she knows – she is married to Jesse, who is an amazing husband and father and they have four incredibly sweet children; Derek, who has the gift of cerebral palsy, the heart of a warrior and a high calling; and Hannah, who has the gift of autism and whose heart and life are filled with God’s love and grace.

You can find Marlene over on her blog, My Hope For Autism, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
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