Jacob is 7 years old. he has autism, and a myriad of other difficulties. he experiences the world in ways no one else seems to understand. every day, jacob takes these two trash bins, HIS trash bins, and walks them around his neighborhood as many times as he can fit in. he takes them both, never just one. as he walks around the rocky roads, one or the other will regularly tip off to the side. jacob stops, lifts it upright, and continues on his way. never angry or frustrated. he keeps walking. all around the neighborhood, quietly wheeling the bins behind him.
i was spending the afternoon with jacob today as his foster mom needed a break. i can't fully explain why, but this parade of his two bins was incredibly touching to me. to watch him treat them so tenderly, so carefully. as if they were his two children, left solely in his care. he was very committed to getting them out to see the neighborhood, pausing to watch the horses or squirrels or to look at a creek. around and around the neighborhood. after about two hours of walking with him, it began to rain. i'm not sure jacob noticed at all. i let him know we needed to head back to the house until the rain stopped, and offered to take charge of one bin for him. as i wheeled it toward the house, jacob's free hand never left the side of it, as if to be a backup spotter should it topple over. as we approached the driveway, jacob wheeled the bins to their resting place, gently putting each precisely where it belonged. as we walked into the front door, he glanced back, to be sure they were as they should be.
this child is the target of teasing, rejection, namecalling. he is labeled with horrific words like "retarded" and "unreachable." and yet i see in him a level of intimate humanity i've rarely found. there is so much left to learn about autism. so many unanswered questions. countless families who struggle to make it through each day, to find the right help for their children, to try and parent them with love in the midst of being completely burned out.
one thing i'm sure of, though, is that the greatest disservice we could do to these children and ourselves is to ignore them or write them off. for the last six years i've worked directly with foster kids with developmental disabilities like autism. it's sickening the way these children are tossed from one home to another, label after label written into their records. medications shoved into their systems. rarely does anyone spend time with them to see who they are, past the diagnoses, past the outbursts and embarrassing tantrums.
each of these children is, in fact, created by God. and not just by God, but in his very image. they're not the exception to that rule, you know.
later, hours after i'd left jacob, i noticed myself rushing around, trying to get things done just to check them off the list. i remembered the care with which jacob wheeled his bins. that he felt such responsibility for them, and took that seriously. and cliche as it may sound, this "unreachable" child most certainly reached me.