Persons with special needs are image bearers of God. Our world, our societies are not normalized for persons with special needs. These men, women, and children pursue lives in which they must determine how to function in a “normal world” with their associated “need.”
We use words such as “disability, limitation, or developmentally delayed” labeling these persons as others. What if these “others” have something very profound to share with us “normal” persons? What can these men, women, and children teach us about patience, anger, and hope? I believe these men, women, and children by their unique lived experience have something to teach us about God and the profound desire to recognized as persons with much to offer.
In our country, approximately 24.8 million persons have been diagnosed with some form of autism. Autism has a spectrum and as such it manifests in multiple ways. In communication, there can be limitations in natural speech which can impact meeting the daily needs of life. In behavior, persons with autism have been stereotyped as rockers, erratic movement of the hands, and compulsive actions. For some there is the need for consistency and not change. The need for a daily routine which should not be changed. What causes autism? There are studies about environmental impacts and other studies have identified autism occurring because of differences in the genetics of an individual. Whatever the case, Dr. Steven Shore who has autism states, “every autistic person has unlimited potential.”
Meditate on those words. Every. Autistic. Person. Has. Unlimited. Potential.
The person with autism is not retarded rather he or she experiences the world differently, learns differently, and thus responds differently. Certainly, there are moments when confusion and frustration become paramount. Her unique way to communicate a need, to desire attention and affirmation may not come the way I express myself. This no less diminishes the fact she has much to offer and I must ask myself, “Am I willing to listen?”
In Psalm 88 the autistic musician finds himself in isolation and in need of comfort. He is an overwhelming emotional state because he finds himself alienated from those who should be his brothers and sisters. He wrestles with the existential question, “God are you near?
Like the rising and setting of the sun his cries for the acknowledgement of his person are continual. He has cries which are verbal and nonverbal. His cries may not be discernible words but utterance God alone can understand. Whatever the cry, it rises and falls with the movement of the sun. The morning rises over the eastern horizon and it is accompanied with groans. After the long day, she sets like a blazing fire along the Pacific Ocean and his cries put her to bed as an anguished lullaby.
Maybe his autism falls within a spectrum in which he finds himself in continual isolation. The only way he can characterize this loneliness is as an impending death. His loneliness is Sheol. He has been put down into the depths of a deep and dark pit and his question goes to God, “Do you have any awareness of my human experience? Am I to be treated as someone who has been left for dead? Will anyone remember me?!” God, are you angry with me….”
There are approximately 24.8 million autistic psalmists. We must ask ourselves are we welcoming to them in our churches, our places of businesses, and schools. If we “normal people” are the land of the living and in our desire to remain comfortable we carry these men and women to isolation, darkness, and deep places, we are losing the opportunity to learn and be blessed by their presence.
So, the psalmist in verses eight through twelve reflects on his treatment by others. From his vantage point he has been shunned and viewed as a horror. “You are not normal. You are a behavior problem.” The psalmist poses the deep question which we all share, “God do you take notice? Does your love which saves the soul of a man, extend to my current human experience?” This autistic psalmist offers us the courage to ask this question out loud and the faith God’s steadfast love is not lost.
He concludes his psalm once again appealing to day long emotional toil of his prayer. What he asks for is simply profound. He asked to be noticed by God and by his companions. He acknowledges the mystery of God withdrawing his beloved and his friend but we can see by implication he desires companionship. Acknowledgement. Affirmation.
This week remember those persons with special needs. Take time to affirm their presence. Be warmed by their smile. Act as the physical hand of God and touch them. In doing so, you will discover Christ is there and you will discern good news from their presence. You will sense their unlimited potential as image bearers of God.