Extreme ThanksgivingWhen my son Peter was three years old, I sat across from a doctor at Children's Hospital and heard a word straight out of every parent's worst nightmares: autism. No one was sure what caused it, or how to treat it. I was on my own.
I didn't have the luxury of breaking down; if I didn't find a way out of autism for Peter, no one would. So to keep myself going, I tried for a positive, thankful attitude. I had to clutch at some pretty thin straws to find things to be thankful for in that situation. I realize now it was like turning the act of thanksgiving into an extreme sport. Welcome to Extreme Thanksgiving. Instead of explaining the rules, I'll show you how to play:
I learned that many autistic children are completely nonverbal.
"Okay God, even though he can only repeat what people say, without understanding it, he can speak. I’m grateful. We can work with this."
I found out lots of autistic children won't even let their parents touch them.
"Okay, God; so Peter doesn't say 'I love you', and he avoids even looking in my eyes. But he lets me hug him and he seems to enjoy it. I'll be thankful for that."
Taking Peter anywhere was a nightmare; his screaming tantrums often took the form of kicking off his shoes and collapsing. "Well God…at least he's still small enough for me to pick him up and carry him away to the car, even if I have to leave the shoes behind. Good. Thanks. We can work with this."
Get the idea?
That was the beginning of a journey it's impossible to describe here. Let's just say, we did work with it, and slowly, with trouble and sweat and more work than most people can conceive of, Peter toiled his way out of autism. He's thirteen now, and if you met him today, you'd probably think, "He's a great kid, but there's something different about him--I can't put my finger on it." Actually, the first thing you'd think would be "Wow; handsome". He's a drummer and a kayaker and had the highest GPA in the entire middle school last year. And God knows I'm thankful.
But are you thankful enough?
Honestly, parents, I challenge you right here and now. Look around that Thanksgiving table and check out your kids. Give thanks for their eyes and ears and mouths and brains and every single working part of their miraculous bodies, whatever their other impairments may be. And if you're not a parent, try the same thing. Thank heaven for every little part of you that functions. Now it's your turn to play Extreme Thanksgiving.
I'll get you started: Give thanks for your ability to hold that crappy job and pay for the dinky little apartment you hate. It beats hell out of living in an institution, with your entire fate handed over to strangers. So what if your son got a D in college Chemistry this year? He was mentally capable of getting into college, wasn't he? Wow! Give thanks. And if your seven year old has started telling awful lies, be grateful she's got the brain power to do it. If she's smart enough to lie, she's smart enough to learn the value of truth.
This Thanksgiving, I'm asking you to go ahead and give thanks for all the inconceivably precious privileges you treat like rights. I didn't know they were privileges, either, till my son lost them.
And today, after the turkey dinner, before I head out for a game of backyard football with Peter, I'm giving thanks because I remember the long years when Extreme Thanksgiving was the only sport I had time to play.