The Heart of Autism
If somebody asked me to describe the landscape of Heaven, I couldn’t, but I know it’s beautiful. If anybody came to me and probed “Jennifer, how wide do an angel’s wings span?” I’d shrug my shoulders, but I’d close my eyes to think about it. Many parents come to me with a question that is equally mysterious, one with no easy, tangible answer: “What is inside my autistic child’s mind?” Of course, I couldn’t possibly begin to answer their question without spending a good deal of personal time with their child. Each child is so very unique. Usually, instead of traveling that route, instead of talking about the mind of autism, the biology of autism, the mask that is autism, I talk to them about something that is much more tangible, more vivid, more real: the heart of autism. After all, one autistic child’s heart is as heavenly as every angel combined, don’t you agree?
Consider my young friend Matthew Linskey, age 14. In a recent letter I received from Matthew’s mom, Brenda, I see the true heart of autism revealed. Brenda describes the joy delivered into her arms at the birth of her son: “He was a beautiful, healthy bouncing baby boy weighing eight pounds and ten ounces. He had blond hair and blue eyes and a smile that would warm your heart. We had been given a gift that would change our lives forever.” A loving mother, Brenda continues describing both the highlights and the challenges that Matthew presents to the family from one day to the next. She relates how on a day no more or less special than any other, Matthew’s younger sister, Madalyn, innocently asked: “Why did we have to be the family who was given such a child?” A patient, thoughtful, and kindhearted sister, perhaps Madalyn asked this question for herself. I believe she asked it for all of us.
In peeling back the layers of chaos, the tensions, stresses, and trials of autism, if we are willing to look deeply, we find the blessings that autism can bring to our lives. In choosing to view autism in this way, this deeper sense of purpose and blessing becomes evident. In Matthew’s house, nobody loses track for long of the love and joy he brings. Dad, Matthew Sr., has learned to rekindle a childhood light of joy and fun, especially when he helps Matthew and the other Challenger League baseball players during practice. Love shines in those divine moments when your child glows with success from embracing a hobby.
In third grade, Madalyn wrote a touching essay about her big brother that embodies a sibling relationship we should all be so lucky to have: “I admire and love Matthew Arthur Linskey, Jr. He is my brother, my best friend, and my “Real Life Hero” forever.” Madalyn won an award for her simple, poetic feelings on the subject.
In church one day, Matthew and Brenda attended a healing service. In mom’s own words, “A priest along with a group of parishioners gathered around us and prayed for Matthew. As tears streamed down my face, Matthew took my hand and held it tightly. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Mommy, I will take care of you.'”
In our search for answers, we constantly ask questions regarding the how’s and why’s of autismâ€¦we hope for some glimpse of reason in this illogical equation of life. If there is, in fact, any semblance of reason to how, to why, children come to us challenged with autism, perhaps it is this: they are gifted angels who share a powerful, otherwise elusive lesson with everyone who takes the time to listen to the beat of the autistic heart.
When we listen, we hear Matthew’s heart beating loudly, saying to us all “I am here to help guide you! Look at my strength: I come to you everyday challenged, laden with obstacles, and I pass every hurdle! I have taken on a role that rarely gets recognition: to be the instigator, the one who stirs up your life so that you can find what’s important about it. I don’t ask for credit, I just ask that you listen for my message, that you look hard to see the love I’ve brought you from inside. Please, hear my heart.” Brenda maintains that Matthew is the teacher and we are his students in lessons of patience, compassion, and tolerance, and that he “pulls fine traits out of many of us.”
In the time I’ve spent with Matthew, his heart speaks loudly to me. His mother, sister, and father, through the daily dissonance, hear it too, pounding out like a glorious siren. Matthew will receive no medal of sainthood for his sacrifices, no blue ribbon for his selfless giving in an
unprecedented way: he chooses to give to his loved ones instead of taking comforts like social graces or an easy life for himself. His heart is not unlike the many others I find beating tenaciously inside the chests of other children with autism, perhaps inside your own child’s chest. As Brenda describes, “Now when I look into Matthew’s eyes, I see all the riches that
lie within him. He is a valuable asset to our family. He is our inspiration. We love him dearly and feel very blessed that he came into our lives. Thank you, Matthew, for being our teacher and our most valuable treasure. We still have many more lessons to learn.”
And Matthew’s heart beats onâ€¦
Reprinted with permission from the July-August 2001 issue of the AutismAsperger’s Digest, a bimonthly magazine devoted to autism and Asperger’s Sydrome. Published by Future Horizons, Inc. USA. Call 800.489.0727 or visit www.autismdigest.com
Jennifer Kummins is a Social Behavior Specialist for children, teens, and young adults on the autism spectrum. Her focus is to improve the quality of life for every child she reaches on the spectrum, one heart at a time. She is also an inspirational and spiritual teacher, lecturer, and writer who blends the best of both worlds in her perspective on autism. To contact Jennifer, or to share your inspiring experiences with autism for consideration to be highlighted in her column, send e-mail to: