My son was diagnosed with autism 7 years ago. It’s only been the past year or so that he’s been willing to go to Primary- and it’s still very hit and miss.
As an infant, he wasn’t just a little fussy or colicky, he was downright angry. He screamed hour after hour, day after day, month after month. He could not be consoled. We would learn later that this was his autistic response to the world around him. His senses were like a flesh wound, the slightest breeze could set him off. There was nothing we could do.
We learned early that being in a room full of people, with tiny movements, buzzing lights, microphones, screaming babies and people hushing him, was too much for Preston. It was just too much. He was happier in the foyer. If he was happy anywhere, we would occupy that space.
We occupied that space for seven years. For five of those, church was spent entirely in the halls. A year or so ago, due to good medicine and years of therapy, Preston started being able to attend sacrament meeting and Primary.
I don’t think his spiritual welfare was hampered by the years we spent in the foyer. That’s good, I guess. But mine was. I watched as my testimony started to fade. Little by little, bit by bit. It was hard. I had to carry my very-large for his age boy. It caused muscle damage. I was in pain for many of those years.
I kept going because it was what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to be there every Sunday in order to continue to receive the blessings of the temple. I was supposed to be there and felt like I would be blessed for nothing else than just making the effort. I went because I remember my mother packing up her six children the day after my father passed away and taking us all to church. If my mother could do it then, I could do it now!
Maybe I was blessed for my effort, maybe I wasn’t. But I do know that the time spent in the foyer was time not spent maintaining my commitment to the gospel and to the church. Increasing my testimony in the things that I did believe, so that the things that I worried about didn’t seem so significant. Slowly, the things that had bothered me about the church started to creep in. I took my fingers out of my ears. They had been pressed in there, like any good Mormon girl, when any subject came up that was contrary to what I had wanted to believe about the church.
I started to listen. I started to listen to my doubts as they rose up as people walked by and said ‘hi’ to me and my son, but did not offer help. I started to listen when I cried at night over the hateful things that my own family members were saying about gay people. I started to listen to MYSELF. I started to learn FOR myself.
I went to church every Sunday hoping that it would be enough to maintain a testimony of the Gospel that is every bit my culture, my heritage as it is my religion.
How ironic it is that testimony slipped from the hands that held my autistic son in the foyer of the church.