“I am fearful I will break” | Raising sons with autism
Dr Annalisa Contos knew motherhood would be a unique journey when her eldest son was diagnosed with autism. However, when they diagnosed her younger son she says, “It really required us to rethink how we approached everything. I remember thinking, ‘Here we go again’. It was doubly exhausting, because we had just gotten the elder boy to school. We had done all the early intervention and we were exhausted.”
Both Contos boys suffer from different degrees of autism, as well as anxiety. The older son has been in and out of mainstream schooling and the younger has always been in a support class. They struggle to behave as expected in community situations. Both suffer from anxiety, and the younger son can be quite violent at times.
“Outings were challenging,” Dr Contos says. “When my son was younger, there were times when I would just have to pick him up and leave the shopping and go back to the car. When the younger one is elevated, he will say things that are quite inappropriate and abusive towards me. People jump in and say, ‘Don’t talk to your mum like that’, which just gives validation to his behaviour. I’ve been advised to just ignore it and let him calm down.”
“There were times when I would just have to pick [my son] up and leave the shopping…”
Dr Contos and her husband can feel isolated due to the nature of raising children with special needs. If they need a babysitter, they end up paying more than $50 an hour. Joining a Bible study has only become a possibility recently due to groups moving online.
Trusting God is difficult
It is challenging to trust God at times. “I know that I should trust God, but I am fearful I will break,” Dr Contos says. “I am a bit fearful of being tested beyond my ability.
“There’s often a tendency to be very cheerful about one's faith and not to speak of how one struggles with it. You get caught up in the struggle of the moment, which can be very violent or distressing, and so you can’t find the time or the space to be able to sit and bring yourself back to God and the Bible and find strength from those passages.”
However, Dr Contos does draw strength from the restoration that is to come at Christ’s return. “I take comfort that this world is broken and that a new and perfect world awaits,” she says.
“You can’t find the time or space to be able to sit and bring yourself back to God and the Bible…”
Philippians 4:4-7 also provides comfort to the Contos family. “We’ve printed the verse and put it in my younger son’s room.,” Dr Contos says. “We talk about how we don’t have to be anxious, we can pray to God and let God know what we’re anxious about. A lot of what we do with him is very situation dependent. I’m working to link the approaches of our therapy to the Bible. Where we work on managing anxiety, I want to tell him what the Bible says about anxiety and being calm and not harming people.”
“It’s always uncertain to know how they will develop… so raising them with faith is important.”
There is also great joy in small moments that others might take for granted, such as watching her boys interact with each other. This only lasts a short period of time, but Dr Contos says it’s evidence of their progress.
“Cooking is one example of something we all do together. It’s a bit limiting because the younger one is very restricted in what he will eat, but he will make and eat pizza. Sometimes there are some board games, and sometimes there are computer games they play together, too. There is joy in realising how far they’ve come.
“It’s always uncertain to know how they will develop. The trajectory of this world is so uncertain. Will they be able to live independently? Will they stay out of the justice system? What will their lives be like? It’s so very uncertain. But there is the truth of what is yet to come, so raising them with faith is important so that when this world ends they have a strong Christian faith.
“Pray that we will continue in our faith. Pray that our boys will find strength and comfort through God’s word. Pray for patience and calm.”