Yesterday, I had the great honor to share my son’s autism journey and my faith with my church, Pulaski First United Methodist Church. My emotions got the best of me during the 1st service but the second service I didn’t get emotional until the last 10 seconds. 🙂 My church feels like home every time I walk in the doors. The people of my church show their love in so many ways. They have all been so supportive through our autism journey. The best feeling of all is knowing that they accept Carter for who he is and love him unconditionally. Todd and I both grew up in this church and I am so thankful that our children get to do the same.
Autism, Hope and Faith…
Good Morning! For those that do not know who I am – my name is Shana Hibdon. I am married to Todd Hibdon and we have 2 boys, Will and Carter. April is autism awareness month. Autism and the awareness of autism, as a lot of you know, are very close to my heart. If my family had not been affected by this disorder – we would not have known much about it.
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social, motor, sensory and communication skills. It can take a lot of time (months or years) to get doctors appointments and testing before a child can be diagnosed. There are different types and different levels of autism. Did you know that 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed on the spectrum each year? That is 1 out of every 68 children. There are currently 70 million individuals in the world with autism and it is the fastest growing serious developmental disorder in the U.S.. There is no known cause and no cure.
My youngest son was diagnosed in February 2013 with High Functioning Autism. I knew going in to the doctor’s office for his evaluation that it was a great possibility that he may be diagnosed with autism. However, when the words came out of the doctor’s mouth – “Your son has high functioning autism”… my heart went into my stomach. I never thought that 6 words could hit me so hard like those 6 words did.
After trying to comprehend the diagnosis, my husband and I decided to not let those words define our son or us. I have lost hope and faith in a lot of things and people in my life… even in God… but I would never lose hope and faith in my little boy.
Over the years I had a love/hate relationship with God. I didn’t understand why things happened in my life and instead of looking at the whole picture – I blamed God. It was the easiest thing to do.
I was sitting one day talking AT God and blaming him for my son’s diagnosis. I wasn’t very nice. After I said my piece – I felt a warmth of calm come over me and in my head I heard – “I am not doing this to your son. I have chosen this path for him because he is going to do great things and help others.” I am not sure if this was the voice of God or me trying to console myself. But, since that moment – Carter has defied so many odds that were stacked against him. I can’t help but to feel that it was God speaking to me.
In the beginning we were told that our son may never have very good speech. Now after therapy he is speaking better than a lot of typical children his age. As of January 2015 he graduated out of speech therapy. We were told that he may never be able to write, color, draw and cut with scissors very well. We decided to buy him pencils, paper, colors and scissors and we let him prove the doctors wrong. Now he has beautiful hand writing. He draws and colors better than many children his age and older. His scissor cutting is so precise – just amazing. He now no longer needs Occupational Therapy. We were told that he may never understand feelings. So we put him in behavioral therapy and he now understands and expresses his feelings so well. He would have what is called autism melt downs once or twice a week. Now, he only has them maybe 3 to 5 times a year. He was very socially awkward – didn’t like playing with other children… so we scheduled play dates and put him in different activities with children… Now he loves being with his peers and they love being with him.
Not too long ago I talked with my son about where he was with autism 2 years ago and where he is now. I told him of his achievements. I explained that he did everything – he knocked down walls that doctors didn’t think he could. I hugged him and told him he has come so far. Every day he makes us proud because he never gives up.
After telling him all this – he started to cry. I was a little frightened that I might have told him too much – overwhelmed him. I asked him what was wrong and he said… “These are not sad tears. These are happy tears. I am proud of me.”
I know that there are going to be times that he may experience people making fun of him… he may have people that doubt his abilities… he may come in contact with people that are not so nice to him… Does this sound familiar to you? Jesus had his doubters and his haters… but he put them aside and still loved them. He gave everything to them and to us. My son gives everything he knows and has to everyone he comes in contact with. Some choose to embrace him and others choose to look away. However, he forgives the ones that look away and forgets and sees the good in everyone… just like Jesus. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
I see so much hope and faith in my child that I can’t help but to have both as well. This little boy has changed me. I think the Lord for giving me this life… I would not have picked this road with autism… but I am thankful He chose the driver he did for me.
We are fortunate that our son is breaking down the autism doors… I am not saying that his journey doesn’t have bumps because it does… and probably will for the rest of his life. He will always have autism but autism will not always have him. He is beating down the doors of doubt and is bringing so much HOPE to others that struggle and live with this disorder. He truly is a rock star.
Please keep in mind that this is our journey but we are not the only ones in our church family and community that are on an autism journey and are facing similar and different challenges.
Educating our church and community on autism and other childhood and adult disorders and disabilities is an important ministry for our church.
If you would like to leave a donation at the chancel rails during the communion – the communion offering will go to Leg-Up Therapeutic Riding Center. In April 2014 the offering also went to Leg-Up. Your communion offering last year raised over $1000 for this fantastic organization. Leg-Up is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization located right her in Pulaski, TN. Their mission is to enrich the lives of those with life challenges through equine-assisted activities. They help children and adults with autism and all other disorders & disabilities. There are a couple of children in our church that attend Leg-Up. There are also a few members who volunteer there, as well. Leg-Up has helped my son tremendously with communication, sensory, fine motor skills, compassion, sportsmanship, and more. I can’t express enough in words how amazing this program is. The money given to Leg-Up goes towards maintenance of facilities, food for the horses, grants for families that are not able to pay for the lessons and so much more.
I want to leave you with a bible verse that pretty much sums up how I have felt and feel through this fascinating autism journey…
Trust the Lord with All Your Heart and Lean Not On Your Own Understanding. In all your ways submit to Him and He Will Make Your Paths Straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
The last few weeks have been crazy but fun – spreading autism awareness!
Our local Mayor, Pat Ford, signed a proclamation declaring that our city recognizes April as Autism Awareness month and encourages everyone in the city to get involved in educating and supporting. Video below of the signing…
I work for Martin Methodist College. I am the adviser to MMC NOW student media club. I also have a co-worker who is over Martin Serves!. These 2 organizations teamed up and adopted the “Carter’s Friends Rock Challenge” that our family put on last year. They renamed it as the “Autism Friends Rock Challenge”. They challenged everyone at MMC, the Giles County community and BEYOND to wear blue on April 2nd (World Autism Awareness Day) and post their pics to the MMC NOW social media pages. It was a huge success with over 540 images of people wearing blue submitted. See the photo album of all the pics – CLICK HERE! Below is the Promo video the students at MMC and a few local children on the spectrum put together for the challenge.
Our local movie theater which is also a part of Martin Methodist College has teamed up with Martin Serves! and will be showing a sensory friendly movie for those who are on the spectrum and for all those living with special needs. This event will be on Tuesday, April 14th. Doors open at 6pm. There will be booths setup in the lobby from different organizations that help serve those with special needs. For more information click on the flyer below…