Sunday, June 7, 2015

Little Things Mean a Lot

My school year ended on Friday with a teachers’ work day in which we completed our paperwork for the year and packed up our classrooms for the summer. Like our students, we also spent time socializing to make the work more pleasant. As I was visiting with my friend and colleague Melissa, our friend and colleague Justin stopped by to ask where the old textbooks should be taken for recycling. Knowing that Alex would love to have an old science textbook to read, I asked Justin if he could put one aside for Alex. He assured me that he would, and then Melissa asked if Alex would also like to have an old geography textbook, which I knew he’d be happy to have. As I was getting the geography book, Justin returned with not one but four old science textbooks in excellent condition. My friends’ thoughtfulness not only delighted Alex, who was thrilled to have new books to read for the summer, but their kindness also blessed me in that they were doing something nice for my son. While both of them shrugged it off as no big deal, this small gesture meant a great deal to Alex and to me. Indeed, as the old saying goes, “Little things mean a lot.”

Later that day, I received a Facebook invitation from an autism mom friend to a page called “Cards for Trent.” Thanks to Facebook, many autism parents in our area have been able to get to know each other and share information. In this instance, a family friend had made a request that people send graduation cards to a young man with autism. As she explained, Trent has never had a birthday party and will not be having a graduation party and he never asks for much. She went on to say, “He doesn’t have any friends which is ok with him. He loves receiving mail and checks his mailbox everyday hoping there is something in there for him.” With this in mind, she requested that people send him cards congratulating him on his graduation from high school because it would “help bring him some happiness.”

After reading this heartfelt request, I was deeply touched because, like Trent, Alex and other young adults with autism often lack the social skills needed to have friends. Fortunately, Alex doesn’t really seem to notice because he considers our family, my friends who have been kind to him, and his therapists to be his friends. For him, that’s enough. However, knowing how much small acts of kindness mean to Alex, I copied down Trent’s address and sent him a graduation card the next day. That day, his family posted a picture on Facebook of his sister holding a big stack of cards they had received, and I’m sure they were grateful for the kindness of people who had reached out to their son. I hope that these cards make their son as happy as Alex is when he receives cards in the mail. In this age of convenient e-mail and text messages, we sometimes forget that sending a card in the mail can mean much more. For example, every year my dear friend Sharon always sends Alex a birthday card in which she writes a personal message to him and signs it, “Your friend, Sharon.” Alex looks forward to receiving his card from Sharon every year, and he often carries it around the house with him. Little things mean a lot.

A quick Google search of ways to help parents of children with autism will bring up links to lists of suggestions of what to do, what not to do, what to say, and what not to say. For those who want to help but are unsure of how their offers might be accepted, I would suggest this: send the child/adult with autism a card in the mail to let them know you are thinking of them, especially for a milestone—birthday, graduation, holiday, etc. We have been blessed that Alex has various people who remember him with cards: my parents who send him cards for each holiday along with some spending money, my sister who makes special mathematically themed cards for him, Alex’s Aunt Pat who sends cards for holidays and includes gluten-free and dairy-free treats, Alex’s Aunt Babs who sends him postcards from the places she’s traveled, and other family and friends who reach out to him in thoughtful ways. Even though Alex lacks the language skills to express his appreciation, I see how his eyes twinkle and his smile spreads across his face when he realizes that someone cared enough to send him a little something to brighten his day. As his mother, those acts of kindness bless me, as well.

Last week, we were at the grocery store looking at a display of the Coke bottles that say, “Share a Coke with” followed by a variety of first names. Alex enjoyed looking through these bottles and grinned whenever he recognized the names of family, people who work with him, and family friends.  Although he doesn’t express affection easily, these people mean a great deal to him. I know this because he names all of them in his prayers he recites with me every night before he goes to sleep. The next day, he asked me if there were any bottles that said, “Share a Coke with God.” I told him I didn’t think so, but I thought that was a really good idea. Whenever I feel wistful that Alex doesn’t have friends like most people his age, I remember that Alex doesn’t feel that way. He knows that God is his best friend, and he cherishes those who have been kind to him, even in small ways that would seem rather insignificant to most people. Somehow I think God would enjoy sharing a Coke with Alex, who sees the good in people and shows his appreciation by asking God to bless them every night. What more could anyone want in a friend?

“If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” Romans 12:8

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