Thursday, July 07, 2011

Indelible Marks

Our daughter began coloring her world at the age of 2.

Walls, floors, cupboards – every surface was fair game every time she found a stray pencil or crayon. We did our best to hide the pencils, crayons and markers, but she had incredible talent for honing in on them like a bloodhound on a relentless pursuit.

Relentless. It should have been in the top contenders for her middle name.

As she taught herself to read and write, the incessant obsession to label the world around her seemed unstoppable. Unlike our sons who were older than her, redirection did not help, impulse control was non-existent, and consequence was of little importance to her. We were at a loss.

Years later, the writing on the wall began to make more sense as we were told that she was on the autism spectrum. The pervasive tendency to put a mark on her world was part of her own autistic traits, and the complexity of her issues were the reasons most of our parenting methods did not bear fruit. This knowledge helped us extend more patience and grace.

Our perspective had shifted.

She’s nine now, and unless you spent a significant amount of time with her, you might not realize that she still deals with the effects of the autism spectrum every day. The days of the intense, non-verbal child who found social interaction overwhelming and who spent every waking moment in sensory overload have slowly faded. She’s still intense, but less so now that she is capable of expressing herself verbally. In fact, the pendulum has over-compensated. She’s just like her mother, and never stops talking!

While she still has an insatiable need to doodle, draw, write and label every tangible surface, she now uses paper and other acceptable mediums more often than not. These days, the odd self-control mishaps have mostly become a source of entertainment, like the mysterious appearance of the world CHOCOLATE in big bold letters on the kitchen wall (it’s so hard to get angry when you want to yell AMEN, SISTER!!). Or her apparent fear that we'd get confused about the difference between the washer and the dryer even though we are a family of 5-going-on-6 and laundry is pretty much perpetual...

At least they were labelled and spelled correctly. Atta girl!

As she and I read the letters we received today from 3 of our Compassion kids, the topic came up of when Suwanna would be able to write her own letters. At the age of 8.5, Suwanna, our child from Thailand, is still struggling to write her name.

I explained to her that until April of 2011, just a few short months ago, Suwanna had never owned pencils or crayons. We had recently provided them to her through a child gift, along with papers, art supplies and a bag or backpack to put them in. Knowing how much she and Suwanna loves to draw and color, my daughter understood how the value of this gift and the difference it would make. The Compassion project worker expressed to us how grateful Suwanna had been for this gift and how she had even tithed from her birthday funds, something so encouraging to see.

A precious drawing from Suwanna

As I asked my daughter to imagine what her world would have been like if she had not had access to any writing or coloring materials at home until last year...

We both fell silent.

I couldn’t imagine our world without the marks of autism any more than she could imagine her world without the pencils and crayons that had helped give her world a voice.

Although the perspective had already shifted for me long ago... today brought it home even more. The fleeting frustrations of life are temporary, quickly erased, painted over or faded from memory. Well, except those made in permanent marker on a washer and dryer! The true blessings are in the indelible marks my children, both biological and sponsored, have made on my heart and how they have changed my life perspective.

How have your sponsored children helped change your perspective with your own life or your children's lives?


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