My job as autism assistant is messy and unpredictable. There is no telling what kind of day lies ahead of me, whether I will be pleasantly surprised by the kids’ mellow behavior or if I’ll be immediately overwhelmed by numerous tantrums. I guess that’s one of the reasons it is difficult; because no matter how positive I am at the start of my day, I have no control over the level of defiance that I will face, and this lack of control is daunting. It is therefore necessary to practice resilience by being flexible and slow to react to frustrating situations. As the Fellows director, Ben, would say, “There’s a metaphor in that.”
Why do I want control? Must be one of those traits passed down to me from those first fruit-eaters; I want control because I want to be like God. But God doesn’t treat us like puppets on a string, controlling our every action to suit His fancy. No, He gives us free will and we can choose to disobey Him or please Him. There is a set of rules that He gives us to follow for our own well-being. We can never perfectly follow them, but as we practice them, we get better and we come to understand why He set them in place. In a similar way, the kids I work with are given tasks in order to learn how to function in society. They learn simple things, like initiating greetings with classmates. Sometimes they refuse to practice and I have to be patient with them. Eventually they cooperate, with the promise of receiving candy after they work. They don’t understand that the big-picture reward for their work is much more valuable than candy: the ability to have basic interactions with people.
In so many instances at work, I am challenged to relinquish my desire for control, to let go of any preconceived expectations in order to give my full attention and energy to what the kids actually need. This way I am able to respond moment-to-moment in whatever way the situation calls for. Sometimes it is necessary to ignore an adorable child who is trying to play with me when he should be working. Sometimes the child has made a mess, but in so doing, he has performed a skill successfully. Instead of chiding him for the mess, I give him praise for his outstanding efforts at, say, holding a fork correctly. Menial skill though it may seem, my encouragement could be the catalyst for a future of civilized eating methods. That is my hope, anyway.
I feel a surge of pride in these small moments of victory wherein the child is close to mastering a skill. I also get overcome with frustration when I can’t even get a child to stay in his seat. Maybe God has moments like these with us, of pride and frustration, when we are inside and outside the bounds of the way Christ taught us to live. Little do we understand how sweet the reward will be when we learn to stay within designated realms—sweeter than candy, no doubt. I have a feeling that the pay-off is relational in nature, just as it is for the kids I work with. Whereas they work to iron out social deficits, we work to iron out misconceptions about the Lord. As we learn about Him and practice communicating with Him for who He actually is, we become healthier and experience spiritual wellness. Therefore it is entirely worth it to strive to imitate Christ, because even if it gets messy in the process, the Lord will use it to bring us closer to Him.
SLF Class of 17-18