Parenting Autism and dealing with Shame
By Pastor Tom Anderson
Sho Baraka is a Christian hip-hop artist, actor and author. He met his wife Patreece in college when they were both active in their respective campus ministries. He was passionate about evangelism, and she was a devoted teacher and servant of the young girls she discipled.
The Barakas have three children: a daughter, 17 and two younger sons who are both on the autism spectrum. The journey for their marriage and parenting has been pretty bumpy.
They were not expecting a second child. Patreece was busy securing a new job caring for abused and neglected children. She was enthusiastic about finding a position in her field. They were also in financial distress. She was required to take a drug test before completing the hiring process. When the results were reported to her by her employer they said, “Congratulations Mrs. Baraka, you are five weeks pregnant.”
She was shocked and deeply distressed. She panicked over how this would affect them. She did not feel good about the life she carried. Later on, when she discovered her son was autistic, she felt guilty. She thought that God had judged her and was punishing her for her negative feelings about being pregnant. She was ashamed and hid her feelings from her husband.
Sho for his part was in denial. He couldn’t accept the growing evidence put to him by their pediatrician. He viewed everything from a self-centered perspective. He lamented the dreams for his experience of fatherhood that would never come true. He felt cheated and denied. He was ashamed of himself and his feelings. He, too, hid all of this deep within him. The marriage struggled and for many years they did not like each other.
Their home was tense. They had so many plans for how they would raise their children in a Christian home and create wonderful citizens out of all of them all. As Sho put it, quoting Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan, until you get hit in the mouth.” After wrestling through the deeper issues in their hearts with Christian counselors, they emerged with a different perspective. “We’ve been taught that love is not based on performance. Just because someone doesn’t perform the way we want doesn’t lessen our affection for them.” says Sho, “Our sons love without words, and they have taught us compassion.”
They see their sons as the gifts of God they are and not as “punishments.” They’ve been given a different perspective on God and what his blessings are. Their sons see the world differently and Sho and Patreece have learned to see things differently through them.
Many of us have encountered unruly or misbehaving children in the grocery store or some public place. We are often quick to judge the parents for neglecting to properly supervise their kid. But what if instead of enjoying our judgmental thoughts about the deficiencies of others we were to ask these parents, “how can I help you? Can I watch your kids? Can I take your cart to the check out? Can I pay for your groceries? One of the greatest blessings for Patreece is that she has learned to give others grace without judgment. This is a very different way of looking at life that is well worth having.