by Jennifer Dyer
This past weekend we hosted a slumber party to a gaggle of fourth-grade girls. For the most part, we had a fun time.
With Rachel’s autism, big groups of people present a challenge. The noise, the disruption to her environment, and her self-stim behaviors all cause issues. She gets very excited to have people around, but she may strip to just her undershirt and bottoms. Rachel will laugh with excitement, but it might be only an inch from someone’s face. She sometimes makes a mess when she potties, although she cleans it up. She can’t speak clearly yet, and she doesn’t understand social cues.
Add all of those up, and big problems result, the kind that often result in tears either in myself or eldest.
This weekend was no exception. For the children we did not know well, I tried to give a brief explanation of autism, but there was too much birthday party excitement. In retrospect, I should have asked the parents to prepare children ahead of time. The problem was the people unaware of Rachel and her issues didn’t RSVP…
So, a few of the children were mean to Rachel. One made fun of her and imitated her noises and movements, even pulling up her shorts to look more like Rachel. Ugh. My stomach clenches when I write this. It makes me ill to think of someone being so cruel. Another little girl made some rude comments about Rachel and autistic people in general.
What to do?
Eldest ended up in tears after the “making fun of Rachel” incident. Yet, in the midst of that pain, three of the other girls came to Rachel’s defense. How wonderful is that? Furthermore, my sister went upstairs to check on the tears and wound up having a very nice talk about autism with the girls in slumber party pow-wow fashion. I think it made a big difference to the girls, and it was something I could not have done emotionally.
After the party, however, I was left with a big issue. Eldest was still hurting. Tears brimming in her eyes, she clenched her fists. “Why does Rachel have to be autistic anyway?”
My heart squeezed. I have asked that question myself. “I don’t know,” I told her. “What I do know is that God made her that way. Rachel will not have to answer to God for being autistic, but someday people will have to answer to Him for how they treated people with special needs.”
“But I’m so mad,” she said.
I nodded. “Yes, but we have to trust God to take care of the situation. You can choose whether or not to be close to that girl who made fun of Rachel, but we still need to forgive her. Then we trust God to take care of her heart.”
She took a deep breath. I prayed for wisdom and the passage in Matthew 5: 43-47 came to mind. (Interesting that my Bible study covered it just this week…) I said, “The Bible tells us that we should forgive, but Jesus also says that being nice to people who are nice to you is easy. The real challenge is being kind and forgiving to people who aren’t nice and don’t deserve it. That’s when we really show people about His love. After all, Jesus forgives our mistakes. We need to forgive others and trust God to take care of the rest.”
I wondered what school would bring Monday and was surprised at the result. The girl who made fun of Rachel asked if eldest was still her friend. She also wanted to know if she would ever be invited over to our house again. It was such a lesson in letting God take care of other people. That girl’s heart was softened in a way that would not have happened by human means. Based on things eldest has said throughout the year regarding this girl, I had already decided not to call her mother, but to let God handle it. Perhaps this is the first time her heart has been softened toward others. What a miracle, yes?
I am blessed to have seen this lesson come to life. We never know how our lives, even the negative parts, will affect others. Perhaps that little girl will grow up and become a therapist because something she didn’t understand has now been made clear in a nice way. After all, people often fear what they don’t understand. Bullying is one form of acting out based on fears.
I know not all situations end this way. How I wish they did…