Dear readers and friends, I fully intended to write a Christmas in July post since my Starlight Christmas Series (four book complete series) is on sale this month. But at least two other Inspy authors have already covered the Christmas topic recently. So, instead, today I’d like to share with you a bit about my wonderful son, Matthew. In large part, Matthew is the reason I write the books I do. Let me explain a bit more.
Matthew is our baby, our only son, and born in a suburb of Philadelphia. He’s now 20. Matthew didn’t walk until he was nearly 15 months old, and he didn’t speak our language until he was well over the age of three except for the most simple words and names. He did speak, and he understood us well, but we couldn’t make out what he was trying to say. In other words, he had his own little language, as we called it. We lived in Massachusetts, outside Boston, where my husband, Jim, was a pastor and wore many hats in a small, independent Bible church.
When Matthew was 18 months old, we had him evaluated by doctors and enrolled him in an early intervention program at a local school. The program was wonderful. They gave Matthew therapy in everything from speech and fine motor skills to physical therapy (the latter two he didn’t really didn’t need but they wanted him to have the benefit of a comprehensive program). He sat with a weighted vest during story time to keep him still, and specialists in all areas worked closely with him.
Matthew was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the very broad autism spectrum, a few years later. There is a lot of misunderstanding about Asperger’s, even among some of the supposed best physicians. No one knows what causes it, and it is a condition for which there is no cure. We fought a snowstorm to go into Boston for Matthew to be evaluated by one of the best childhood developmental specialists. This highly esteemed doctor belittled our son and suggested we have his IQ evaluated because, among other things, in a word association game, Matthew responded to the word “bell” by saying it reminded him of the church. It was perhaps at that point when I fully understood that we’d be fighting battles for our son. Perhaps a lifelong battle. No problem. We were up to the challenge. At times, it’s been difficult, but I’m aware of other authors who have sons with Asperger’s Syndrome who have faced much more daunting situations than we ever have. But the Lord equips us, and I know the other authors would agree, that we have learned through our experiences with these special children.
Matthew looked like a “normal” kid with no obvious tics. I love the photo of him with his older sisters because it shows his natural protectiveness for them. One of the senior saints in one of our churches referred to him as being “slow” when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he is brilliant to the point where he learns and thinks differently. Matthew’s “disability” is language comprehension. He’s been able to spell difficult words from an early age and he can memorize very well, but he could read a paragraph of a fairly simple book and not be able to tell you what it means. Subtext is especially beyond his grasp. However, he can solve difficult mathematical and scientific equations that confound me. It’s true that parents of special needs children become their best advocates, but that’s not my purpose in writing this blog.
My purpose here today is to tell you how Matthew has enriched my life immeasurably more. For a person with Asperger’s (sometimes called an Aspy), he is atypically social. He will look you in the eye when he speaks to you. He has a phenomenal memory. If he met you today and saw you ten years down the road, in Hong Kong, he’d know you by name and recall where he met you. And probably tell you what the weather patterns were on the day he first met you. He loves to build with Lego blocks and can look at a skyscraper or architectural structure and build it from memory. Loves clouds and storms and will stand outside on our front step talking about what is currently happening. He is also fascinated by the World Trade Towers tragedy in that he wants to know why the buildings collapsed. He studies the infrastructure closely and tells me things of which I have no knowledge and am amazed by what my child can comprehend. Like most people with Asperger’s, Matthew has become a “little professor” about things that interest him. In his case, it started with a fascination with U.S. presidents, and Abraham Lincoln, in particular. I’ll never forget attending a musical program with the girls when Matthew was about five. He was drawing while we waited for the program to begin. I could tell he was drawing the profiles of presidents in circles. I could easily identify Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, and even John Adams. All from memory. I pointed to one and said, “Who’s this one?” He looked up at me with his big blue eyes and said (as if I were a simpleton), “Mom, that’s James Polk!” I nudged Jim. “He was a president, right?”
We could have lost our boy on two occasions, but not because of illness. In the first, he was at home on a somewhat busy street. Jim was cleaning the hamster cage and Matthew slipped out the front door. I would normally have been upset with Jim that Matthew was still in his bright green sleeper in the middle of the day, but that oversight or negligence could have contributed to saving our son’s life. He ended up in the middle of the street. But it was the man next door, a man with whom we had little contact although the home was also owned by the church, who rushed out of his house and pulled Matthew to safety. Cars on both sides of the street stopped and the drivers got out of their cars to check on him. I honestly believe the Lord worked through that man, and Matthew might very well have had an angel with him that day.
The second time was on Matthew’s third birthday. It was a cold, rainy night in early February. We were eating at The Rainforest Café at the local mall. I was busy collecting everything at the table and Matthew wandered away from Jim and our girls in the gift shop. It’s so true that you turn and they can be gone in an instant. I never blame parents when I hear situations like this because I know from personal experience how easily—and how fast—it can happen. Turns out, Matthew was walking down the mall, singing, looking in store windows, happy as a lark. A lady who’d lost her daughter at Disney World found him and took him to the Information desk. I’ll always remember the gruff guard who said, “He couldn’t even tell me his name.” I was very impressed by the restaurant and mall security who went into immediate action, and we could see them running around the upper level of the mall with their headsets, joining in the search for our lost little birthday boy.
Matthew’s been at summer camp as I write this, and I miss my boy who tells me a hundred times a day, “I love you, Mom.” Repetition is also part of Asperger’s. He’s attended this same camp since 2009 (I couldn’t remember, but Matthew told us when we checked him in at the camp). The first time we left him at camp, Jim was a bit hesitant. “Do you think he’ll be okay?” I squeezed Jim’s hand and said, “He’ll be fine. He’ll soar.” From an early age, Matthew has had the love of the Lord in his heart. I don’t know when he invited Jesus into his heart, but there’s no question in my mind that he did. When we picked him up from camp during one of the years, the kids had written their names on a poster and others wrote something about that camper by their name. Next to Matthew’s name? Practices what he preaches. And the one that grabbed this mama’s heart? An angel in disguise.
Matthew has a genuine love of the Lord which he extends to others. He’s taught me so much about life, about how to respond to others, and how to truly love others with an agape love. We picked him up from camp (where he plans on being a junior counselor next year), and our son was baptized this past Sunday night. Praise the Lord! We waited until he came to tell us he was ready to make this public proclamation of his faith. Our church did the multiple baptisms in a local swimming park (complete with a huge slide and lazy river), and it was thrilling to see a good group of all ages being baptized that night. What a glorious event!
In large part, Matthew’s example of selfless love—in some ways a very innocent and trusting love—is one of the reasons I write the books I do. In my most recent release, Gentle Like the Rain, a little girl–in all her sweet, innocent, trusting faith–leads a grown, jaded man of the world to a personal relationship with Christ. That scene makes me cry every single time I read it, just as it made me cry when I first wrote it. I write books that focus on the good in others and show my characters working among others, Christians and non-Christians alike, to help them discover and draw out the very best in themselves. I have a child in my long-running Lewis Legacy Series coming up who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. His name is Michael (a clue to any of my readers who might recall where that name might come from in the layered history of my various characters), and Michael is closely patterned after our own Matthew. It is my hope that I can bring about more awareness of the syndrome so that others will perhaps better understand the lives of those living with it and the family and friends who love them dearly.
I don’t know if Matthew will ever drive, live on his own, or marry. He told me not long ago, “I think I’d make a good father.” He would, but I don’t know if that will ever happen for him. But, as we all know, all things are possible with God. I pray there’s a special young lady out there for him. If not, I know he’ll be okay, and our door will always be open to him. He made good grades in high school in subjects I would flunk in a heartbeat, and now he’s doing the same in a two-year trade school. I have no doubt he will find a good job and be a hard worker (he works part-time on the weekends now and paid his own way to camp). He tells the girls they’re beautiful and means it. He tells others about how Jesus loves them and knows that love in his own heart. Perhaps part of the beauty of Matthew is that he doesn’t see himself as different. As such, he’s not hampered by the expectations of others, a unique blessing in itself. Matthew is simply…Matthew. A very special person indeed.
So, this post is my love letter to my precious son. And to say, “Thank you, God, for the gift of Matthew.”