We have come a long way together since the diagnoses of autism, ADHD, static encephalopathy, cerebellar deficit, and mixed expressive/receptive language disorder seven years ago. Just shy of Joseph’s fifth birthday we finally got the proper diagnoses, which were nothing less than shattering to my wife and me.
All we had to cling to was our faith and one another.
But after adapting the very rhythm of our lives to Joseph’s needs he has progressed beautifully, and tonight at age eleven he became a Boy Scout. He decided to join the troop of a friend from sports. Per usual, with new steps up socially I was anxious that the experience be a positive one. Not quite sure how Joseph would respond to the boys, or the boys to Joseph, we entered the hall.
The older scouts working on their last and highest rank, Eagle Scout, immediately brought Joseph before the troop and had him introduce himself. The boys (some 30-strong) gave a hearty “hi”, and immediately pulled him into the activities of the night. I sat and watched as they showed him the scout sign, scout salute, scout handshake, knot tying exercises, scout oath, scout law, etc. They were the embodiment of the goodness, decency, and leadership that are the hallmarks and endpoints of the scouting program; just as it was when I was a scout, only these boys were better.
None of the boys know about Joseph. From the goodness and warmth they lavished on him tonight, I doubt that they could have been any different had they known. These aren’t just any boys. These are scouts. These are boys who submit themselves to discipline and the commitment of citizenship and leadership. They are a breed apart, and always have been. Many will become our next generation of military officers, astronauts, business leaders and clergy.
And while all of this was happening tonight, there were parents elsewhere wrestling with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, still others who have not yet conceived the autistic child that will one day be prenatally diagnosed. I understand their despair. I’ve lived it. I’ve been consumed by it. It has tested my faith in God’s love, in humanity’s decency. “What happens when I’m gone?” and a host of other questions…
But all along the way we have encountered nothing but goodness and kindness, decency and love, acceptance and words of encouragement from people. None of my worst fears, or even my mildest fears have materialized. Quite the opposite. People are so very accepting of the Josephs today. This is NOT my parent’s generation. This tsunami of autistic children has brought right behind it a tsunami of love and patient forbearance in society. Everyone knows someone with autism. Speech and occupational therapists, special education teachers work miracles daily as a matter of routine. Down syndrome kids benefit every bit as much from these modern miracles at overcoming neurological defect.
We live in a golden age. With so much hope, so much healing, so much acceptance, there is truly little to fear. The only caveat is the pro-abortion nihilists whose black hearts lead them to manipulate parents’ worst fears when they receive the results of genetic testing. They’ll never tell Joseph’s story, which is the story of thousands and thousands of autistic spectrum children and Down syndrome children today. We must do so, and so I am today.
When we left the meeting, I wondered if the boys sensed a difference in Joseph who just seems a bit shy now. If they did, it didn’t matter. These are, after all, Boy Scouts, and they live their oath and their scout law. These boys stood tall as men tonight in the way they welcomed and embraced a new kid, and they’ll never know how high they made a father’s heart soar as he saw his special son embarking on his training in honorable manhood as just one of the guys. With such mentors and guides outside of the immediate family, how can Joseph do anything but succeed?
And that is the good news, the message of hope that we need to trumpet in our witness to life.