One of my favorite things to watch on television is old re-runs of Little House on the Prairie on the Hallmark Channel. The other day, I saw an episode from the first season of the series that I had seen several times before. However, as I watched it, I found myself moved more deeply than I had been in prior viewings. In this episode, Pa Ingalls had planted a successful wheat crop that was about to be harvested. Pleased with the fruits of his efforts, he has his daughters calculate how much money the wheat will bring when taken to market. Then, they begin making a list of the things they will buy with the money earned from the wheat. In a terrible twist of fate, that night a hailstorm comes and ruins the crops along with the hopes the Ingalls family had of selling the wheat so that they can buy necessities. Disappointed but not defeated, Pa must leave town and go in search of a job to earn money. Staying behind with her three young daughters, Ma decides to rally her women neighbors to glean the grain from the damaged stalks by hand, salvaging some good from the devastation the hail brought. By pulling together, the family did not allow the destruction of the crop to destroy them.
Life with autism is like that. As parents, we sow seeds through various therapies and interventions, hoping that our children will flourish and grow. Sometimes, we have such high hopes for a great harvest and even start planning what we will do when the harvest finally arrives. Other times, we face droughts where nothing seems to be growing, or we cope with infestation by grasshoppers, such as allergies or illness, that attack. Perhaps most frustrating, however, are the sudden hailstorms, those unexplainable setbacks, that appear to destroy all the progress achieved. Last year, Ed and I were figuratively standing in the middle of our fields, thankful for the abundance we had witnessed with Alex’s progress. His behavior had improved significantly; to the point we could take him to restaurants, concerts, and stores confidently, knowing that he would act appropriately. Moreover, his cooperative attitude made teaching him new skills and working on his weaknesses, namely his speech and social skills, easier. We knew this was an opportunity, and we made the most of the situation.
In the late spring, a hailstorm in the form of allergic shutdown threatened to destroy all we’d worked hard to reap in that Alex became less cooperative, less talkative, and less interactive. Despite our best efforts to reclaim what could be lost, we have had to work at trying to get Alex back to where he was previously. Essentially, we have gone back to the fields to glean what we can recover so that everything the three of us have worked diligently to achieve will not be lost. Stepping around Alex’s anxiety and obsessions, we have tried to engage him in activities that interest him and encourage him to develop and improve while trying to avoid upsetting him. At times he reminds us of the old joke: "What happens when you cross a gorilla with a parrot? I don’t know, but when he talks, you’d better listen!" While we’re glad that he’s talking again after some self-imposed silence a few months ago, we hope he starts talking more about things he likes than things he doesn’t. In the meantime, we keep picking through the battered crops, gleaning the good that we can find along the way and refusing to give up on the hope for a good harvest eventually.
"And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house." Ruth 2:7