Skip to site content

Autism and Easter

She was born perfect.

She was born perfect.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Second-born child with blonde hair, bright eyes and all the right sounds: “God had smiled on us,” her mother said. Life was good.
 
Halfway through her second year a sinister spirit seeped into the soul of the little girl, displacing the normal signs of sense and sensibility. She lost the words she had learned to say and then the smile. No longer did she look her mother in the eye; no longer did she come when called.
 
Her name is Caroline. She has autism.
 
Four days after Easter she will celebrate her 13th birthday.
 
Perhaps celebrate is not the right word to use for this occasion. There will be no party, no cake, no candles and no gifts. She understands none of it.
 
Caroline lives in a strange world where neither birthdays nor holidays are marked or remembered.
 
She shares this world with no one: not her immediate or extended family, not the children who surround her at the public school, not even the thousands of people, young and old, who share her medical diagnosis.
 
It is a lonely world.
 
It is also a world full of mystery—mysterious to Caroline and also to all of us who have watched her grow through childhood to the more turbulent times of a teenager.
 
What lies beyond?
 
It is more than mystery, it is trepidation beyond measure: not for the adolescent who may have neither memory nor anticipation; but for those who peer into her world from the outside, through narrow slits in the psychic walls that encase her.
 
Know this for sure: this <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />land of Caroline is no Garden of Eden.
 
True, there is a kind of innocence here, wherein she knows neither right nor wrong, endures no moral tribulation, succumbs to no struggle to discern the way and will of God. She neither sees nor seizes the fruit of the tree which stands in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
 
Caroline is not aware of the uncertainty of her own situation or of the anguish of others. This is mercy for her and consolation for us. 
 
Nowhere in her Garden is a corner called Gethsemane, no sweat like drops of blood that signifies the essence of what it means to be human if not quite holy.
 
Unless, of course, you count the weeping of those who love her; who know this Garden is not one of dancing, in spite of the aimless prancing that so marks her movements from morning until midnight; not one of delight, in spite of the shaking and fluttering of every object Caroline holds in her hand.
 
Outside the Garden there is indeed a place called Gethsemane. There people kneel and pray and stand and curse and hurl heavenward the questions of the Psalmist: Why? Why me? Why her? How long?
 
It also is a lonely place.
 
Especially for all those whose faith in God encounters the harsh realities of a life that is neither fair nor fun. Their name is legion, their number as the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky.
 
The real question, of course, is whether in this Garden wherein live Caroline and her kin, whether in this Garden is also a tomb, but one from whose entrance the heavy stone can be rolled away.
 
In other words, is there an Easter somewhere in this Eden?
 
Is there a day of Resurrection, when earlier dreams give rise to our human hopes, where a blessing from above outwits and outweighs the cursedness of the Garden?
 
Easter is on the calendar.
 
It will be on the minds of many and the schedules of most.
 
We will put on our best clothes, listen to the best music, eat the best food and celebrate the very best day of the Christian year.
 
We do so on behalf of our friends who find so little of Easter in their Eden.
 
We do so also for Caroline, fighting through our feckless cynicism toward the God who cares for her with a deep, eternal delight.
 
We do so, because surely Easter is for her.
Dwight Moody is a writer, preacher and theologian living in Lexington, Ky. This column appeared previously in EthicsDaily.com on April 9, 2004.