Sunday, October 23, 2011

baptism, autism-style

I don't talk about it much on my blog, but I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My religious beliefs mean a lot to me and I try to pass them on to my kids as best as I can.

In my church children are baptized at the age of 8, and I have been looking forward to Danny's baptism since he was a baby.

Of course, when he was a baby, I had no idea that Danny had autism and that this would make many aspects of his life difficult for him.

We have talked about baptism with the kids often, and in the past, Danny always seemed excited at the prospect of his 8th birthday and subsequent baptism. Around January, we discussed it more specifically in reference to him being baptized in July.

His reaction surprised me. Danny broke down crying, which is very atypical of him. When I pressed him for reasons, he just got frustrated with me and spouted some gibberish. I had no idea whatsoever what was causing his angst.

After this episode any time anyone mentioned the word "baptism" Danny would cry and storm out of the room.

I prayed about it and agonized over it. What was causing his tears? Was he not ready for this step? What should I do?

I decided to drop the subject. Obviously, for whatever reason, he wasn't ready. I knew if I kept pursuing the topic I would just be causing more anxiety and frustration for him. So we would give him time and space and just see what happened.

The problem was, my daughter continued to bring up the subject, repeatedly. As soon as the word "baptism" was uttered, I would frantically launch into damage control mode, murmuring reassurances to Danny while focusing my stink eye with laser like precision at Charlotte. I told her to stop talking about it, but that just seemed to make it worse. And no matter how much I reassured Danny that he didn't have to get baptized, he would still break down, crying. After each episode I was even more confused about the source of his angst.

One night when Danny was enjoying a bath, Charlotte yet again mentioned baptism. While I tried not to lose my temper with Charlotte, I noticed that Danny was not crying. I decided to take advantage of this rare calm and ask him cautiously why the mention of baptism bothered him so much. Danny looked me in the eye and said that he was scared to be dunked under the water.

I was flabbergasted. Not about the water, because that seemed like a very reasonable fear. No, what astounded me was that he had so clearly and directly communicated his fears to me. This is not a normal occurrence for Danny. So often his feelings seem to muck up his communication and the more upset/excited/happy/angry he might be, the more difficulty he has retrieving words.

Another surprise was that once Danny told me about his fear of dunking, he continued to play calmly in the bath. No tears, no anger, and no stomping off. He didn't even repeat his catchphrase, "Mom, I just don't want to talk about it!"

I was disappointed that Danny's baptism would have to be postponed indefinitely, and I wondered if he'd ever be ready to take that spiritual step. But I was ecstatic at his ability to communicate his feelings to me. It felt like a major accomplishment, one I cherished and mulled over for weeks to come.

Two months later, after attending the baptism of a friend, Danny approached me and announced, "I should be getting baptized soon. I want to get baptized!"

Excited, but wary, I let the subject drop for the moment, fearing that Danny had just been swept up in his friend's festivities.

But the next day, Danny insisted that he wanted to get baptized too.

So, we started planning.

Typically, people invite most of the church members and all their family members to these functions, which end up being pretty big and lively parties. Bil and I had already decided we would simplify Danny's baptism service and shorten it in keeping with Dan's attention span. When I asked him who he wanted to invite, Danny was surprisingly definite. Aside from his grandparents and aunt, Danny only wanted to invite one family from church.

My vision had been a big party after the baptism, full of all my friends, all the people who have been part of our lives here: the kids' Sunday school teachers, their babysitters, my good friends. But, that was not to be. Instead, I had to inform all those people that they were not invited to the baptism.

Because this is Danny's day and he should have it exactly how he wants it.

I cannot begin to explain how much all of this means to me. I am, of course, thrilled that he has decided to get baptized. I want him to have a relationship with God and would love for him to stay active in our church.

But there's more than that. I am so excited that Danny was able to express his fears to me.
I am also delighted that Danny had such a definite opinion on who he wanted to attend the baptism. He made several comments that told me that he is beginning to understand his limits sensory-wise. He recognized that a small group would be much more enjoyable for him and so he stood his ground. I am really proud of him. And I am excited and hopeful for the future. If Danny was able to express his fears in this incident, who knows what the future will hold?

Baptism is symbolic of a new birth, spiritually speaking, and I can't think of a more apt analogy to what has been happening with Danny in other areas of his life.

For whatever reason, in the last several months, a new Danny has been emerging, a kid who is opening up to me, showing me a side of himself I have rarely been privy to. He has been sharing his feelings and snuggling with me, conversing with his sister and demonstrating unprecedented levels of empathy. For the first time in his life, my son has told me he loves me all on his own!

It feels like I am getting to know a whole other layer of this amazing, fantastic kid, a side I have only seen glimpses of in the past.

And I am loving every minute of it!


Evenspor said...

Yay. Neat story. Thanks for sharing.

Foxxy One said...

So very cool!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post, Patty. How wonderful that he is wanting to and ready to participate in something that is so special and meaningful to your family.

Heather said...

What a beautiful story. And, how wonderful of you to let him have his special day his way. And can I say how much I love that he could express his feelings like that?!?! What a wonderful time for you.

Spectrummy Mummy said...

That is beautiful. I so hope the day goes well, which I'm sure it will on his terms. :)

K- floortime lite mama said...

wow what a neat and affirming story

AutismWonderland said...

How wonderful!

danette said...

That's so awesome! We took a similar approach to Cuddlebug and Bearhug's baptism, followed their lead so it was their decision when they were ready and we made sure it was super-short with only a small group attending :).

It's great that Danny was able to communicate his fears to you so clearly, it's hard when you can tell something is bothering them but don't know for sure what it is.

Mrsbear said...

I love hearing good news about Danny. I can't wait to hear how the baptism went.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy for you. This seems like such a huge accomplishment for Danny.

B1L said...

To all, it was exactly the day he wanted to have, and Patty did a fantastic job keeping it all in live with Danny's wishes. I don't think I've seen him that happy for that long in a long time. :)

B1L said...

oops: *in line* with Danny's wishes. :)