My son Jesse is on the Autism Spectrum. He was born with low muscle tone (hypotonia), but he also has quite a few tendencies that are identified with autism. The one characteristic that seems to stump doctors is his sociability. Social skills are generally something a person with autism lacks. Jason and I took Jesse to see a specialist a year or two ago. This doctor is well known and highly esteemed in helping children with special needs. We were going to him to get a diagnosis because other doctors had not been able to. Instead we were given a very broad term labeling him with “developmental delay”. I needed more than that. I wanted something specific so I could Google like crazy in research.
When we met this renowned doctor I confess I had high hopes. He would have all the answers to our many, many questions! Right before Jesse went in to see the specialist his nurse took Jesse’s vitals, and boy did that kid scream. He has a sixth sense about these things with the poking and prodding of various medical instruments. I don’t blame him. He carried on like he was being tortured (he wasn’t). When he entered the room to see the doctor Jesse was immediately smitten with him. Whenever Jesse sees a new face he feels compelled to be quite friendly. He was a completely different kid than five minutes before. As he interacted with Jesse the specialist also asked me 100 questions to familiarize himself with Jesse’s medical background. At the end of our appointment the doctor confessed he was dumbfounded with how to diagnose Jesse. He said he would have guessed autism from reading his medical records and by the screaming he heard earlier down the hall. But after meeting this little guy and seeing how social he is he did not know.
I believe Jesse has been given a unique gift in his ability to interact with others. The boy has better social skills that I do! Jesse has helped me come out of my turtle shell. A self-proclaimed introvert I am quite content staying home, keeping my head down and blending in. I definitely hate to stand out…unless there is a stage (might have a personality complex). Anyway, I am mostly quiet and better at one on one conversation that is meaningful. Small talk is so awkward.
Why am I telling you this? Well, in God’s infinite wisdom (and humor if you ask me), He gave me a cute extroverted little boy. This kid loves people. He gets excited just being around others and draws his energy from them. Every time we are out and about he meets someone new. Jesse’s vocabulary is limited but that does not stop him. He introduces himself to everyone with “hi!” If the person does not notice this pint-sized greeter at first, he makes sure they do. He is relentless in his pursuit to make sure you know that he notices you. If within reaching distance he gently places his hand on their knee or arm to have a “conversation”. After the introductions are out of the way Jesse will guide you to his shoes, the lights, the sky, or his belly. He has been known to even lift up his shirt to show off his belly button. He is very proud of it.
The way his friendly personality affects me is that after Jesse engages someone I have to do the interpreting and actually talk with the person I just met. I inwardly groan if I am not in the mood to be friendly/talkative myself. But it is a good thing that I am pulled out of my comfort zone. Since having Jesse I am learning to see people as he does. He sees them as someone to meet, to care about, and to notice. In this society Jesse is the complete opposite of the social norms. We have been trained to make little to no eye contact with passers-by and definitely do not strike up a conversation with a complete stranger!
I am just a few feet away as Jesse walks up to a woman and softly says, “hi” to her. She smiles. They all do. His way is refreshing in a world that has become more isolated than ever. As I watch over him, I give him a little room to allow his ministry to flourish. Jesse has a ministry and he doesn’t even know it. God uses him to say to others who may be lonely or having a bad day: “I see you, I notice you, you matter.” I can learn a lot from Jesse’s unawareness of self. He blesses others by connecting with them, even for a moment. His approach in reaching out to others is way more spiritually effective than me hiding in my house keeping to myself. The Lord is using Jesse’s differences and turning them into blessings. God is teaching me to not be intimidated to reach out to others and encourage them. To be just like Jesse.
Grace upon grace,