Lessons from parenting a child with an atypical disorder

This post originally appeared as an exclusive article in Kirk Cameron’s new community: The Campfire. To join, sign up here.

Before having children, I knew little about Autism, ADHD, or even how food affects behavior. Children, I have discovered, require us to participate in continuing education. I’ve attended seminars, poured over books, and worked almost as feverishly as I did during my undergraduate years.

One of my children has a disorder that doctors have yet to identify. She has such a wide swath of symptoms that she doesn’t fit neatly into a single category. At the present time, her doctor suspects Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction) in which certain sensory input can trigger abnormal responses.

Just imagine slipping on a pair of jeans and feeling as though you are dragging sandpaper over your legs. Picture what it would be like if common writing utensils felt uncomfortable in your hand. How would you react if daily noises sounded like nails on a chalkboard?

Before we had any inkling of what we were dealing with, we reacted as though we were raising a strong-willed and picky child. We dug our heels in, we disciplined, we fought the good fight, but our actions only exacerbated her reactions. She would rapidly deteriorate from mere anger to apocalyptic meltdown. We could not figure out what we were doing wrong, but every single day felt like going to battle against an unpredictable adversary. To be clear, I didn’t consider my child the enemy—it was her behavioral issues we were fighting, and all three of us were losing the war.

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We tried everything short of medication to bring about healing—diets, supplements, etcetera—but ultimately, if there was a hiccup of any kind, she reverted immediately. Over the past two years, we’ve discovered the value of behavioral therapy, which teaches her to cope with unexplainable triggers and overwhelming emotions.

As her parents, we continue to do the best we can to train and teach, but I cannot describe how often I have despaired. I cannot count the tears shed nor the number of times she has shattered my heart through what she has said or done during one of her meltdowns. Here are three important truths I’ve discovered through this experience:

Lesson #1: God is the Healer

Many of the methods we’ve used to help our child have brought improvements, but nothing has provided permanent healing. It struck me somewhere along the line that I was not truly trusting God to bring about healing. I subconsciously believed that her health depended entirely on me. I would monitor every food, making notes about trigger foods (sugar and red dye remain the strongest and most immediate). I would obsess over her supplements to the point of panic if she missed one. I would worry about allowing her to participate in activities which had the potential to create additional anxiety.

Monitor. Obsess. Worry. Repeat.

Do those sound like the actions of someone relying on God or relying on self?

There is no doubt that I have a responsibility as her parent to exercise diligence and sound judgment, but at the end of the day, only God can bring about complete healing of both body and soul. Furthermore, I cannot always be there to supervise and protect; she must learn to make wise choices independently, and I have to trust in God to care for her when I am absent.

Lesson #2: Pray Persistently

In the peaceful periods of life, prayers have a tendency to lose their persistence. In the more tumultuous seasons, our despair may become so deep that we give up asking for God’s help. No matter how pleasant or pitiable the circumstance, continue to pray for your child.

Sometimes God does not grant healing in order to show that His power is made perfect in our weakness. My constant prayer should be that whether she is healed or continues to struggle, God can still work through her for His glory. I also pray for her to become a strong adult in spite of her challenges and my own mistakes as her mother.

Pray for your child to make sound judgments, to have good mentors and friends in their life, and to come to know God because of (and sometimes in spite of) our parenting. We only have these precious souls under our care for eighteen short years. Make the most of the time and pray daily.

Lesson #3: Be an Encourager

Parenting a child with any sort of disorder is a long and difficult journey. I have cried countless tears, succumbed to depression, and vented my anxiety until I had exhausted my supply of words. In some of my most desperate moments, I could barely cry, “Help me, Lord. I’m drowning!”

Despair deepens the longer we stare at our ocean of trouble. Instead of fretting over the wind and the waves, fix your eyes on Jesus, encouraging others to do the same.

Encourage fellow parents by being quick to listen and slow to speak. Give generously of your time, your prayers, and your hugs. Praise them or their children whenever you have an opportunity.

Encourage your child. Even on the worst days, end your time with a hug and a prayer. Find something praiseworthy in your child and speak it aloud to them. Continue to discipline and train, but instead of focusing on all that is wrong, make it your aim to discover and be thankful for what is right.

Today—in this moment—give your burden of fear to the Lord, and allow Him to sustain you. If you are feeling inadequate, just remember that His power is made perfect in our weakness. Through a humble shepherd boy, he took down a giant. Through a reluctant man, he delivered a nation from slavery. Through you and through me, He is working to shine the light of Jesus’ love to your family and a lost and dying world. Be the faithful and trusting vessel through which God can carry out His glorious purpose.

This post originally appeared as an exclusive article in Kirk Cameron’s new community: The Campfire. To join, sign up here.

Elihu Anderson is a surviving California native currently thriving in West Texas. When she isn’t writing for Elihu’s Corner, she is teaching, researching, walking, and book-worming with a cup of chai. Visit Elihu at elihuscorner.com


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