Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old , he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
You’ve heard it said that it’s not whether you win or lose it’s, how you play the game. I would contend that sometimes it’s not even about the game. Several weeks I took my 11 year old son, Christian, to a home preseason Pittsburgh Steelers game. Pittsburgh is a sports-crazed town, and the Steelers are at the top of the pecking order. In Pittsburgh, Steelers attire is appropriate in every setting, including church. I have on more than one occasion seen Terrible Towels serve as burial shrouds. Christian was certainly excited to go to Heinz Field, this temple to the sports gods, but not for the reasons you might think.
He was more excited about the venue itself than the team on the field. With all of the parental bias I can muster I will tell you that Christian is an intelligent, energetic, witty and adorable young man who just happens to have autism. Autism has certainly garnered its share of the headlines in recent years with diagnosis reaching epidemic proportions; however there may still be some of you who do not understand this disorder. Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior and interests. One of Christian’s interests happens to be Heinz Field, more specifically the huge letters that adorn the gates at Heinz Field. During our visit to Heinz Field we had to circumvent the entire stadium so that Christian could snap pictures of all of the gates on his iPod touch. One of his photos accompanies this blog post.
For Christian the game itself was merely a side show and not the main attraction. Shortly before halftime he started inquiring when the game would be over. We stayed a bit longer and left about midway through the third quarter. Some years earlier I heard the father of a son with Down ’s syndrome being interviewed on Focus on the Family. He said that as the parent of a special needs child it was important that he as the father enter into his son’s world. I have found this be wise counsel. My wife Cynthia and I have had to enter into Christian’s world, a world that we would have not chosen on our own. His world has its share of frustrations and heartaches, but it also has its share of joys. It is in this world that we have found Christian’s penchant for humor and orneriness. Cynthia will on occasion refer to Christian as “Dennis the Menace.”
The advice to enter into our children’s world is not exclusive to just those of us parenting children with special needs but applies to all parents. In the scripture at the top of this post, training up a child in the way he should go means raising a child according to his or her natural bent. In order to raise a child in this manner, we must enter our children’s world. We must understand what makes our children tick, their areas of interests and gifting. We must encourage our children to pursue and develop these areas in a positive manner that glorifies God. This type of parenting is naturally easier if our children share our interests, but it must be pursued even if our interests are not aligned. I love sports, especially football, but neither of my children shares this interest. It’s perfectly fine to have dreams and aspirations for our children, but we should not seek to vicariously live our vanquished dreams through them. Let’s refrain from “parental dream transference”. (I think I just coined a new disorder. Calling it PDT will make it sound really cool!) Doing so will leave us with better adjusted kids and fewer reality TV shows, both if which are a good thing.