Seeing Through Different Lenses

It was almost 10 years ago when I found myself in Haiti with a group of people from our church trying to pick up the pieces of one of the biggest natural disasters our planet has ever seen. We were there over a Sunday, and attended a local English speaking church. The pastor spoke on compassion, and said one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. “If we truly want to learn compassion and let go of judgmental thoughts, we have to be able to see people through the lenses of their past and current circumstances.” That comment and idea hit me like a ton of bricks and it has stuck with me all these years.

I still think about it all the time. And now that I’m a parent of an autistic child, those words couldn’t be any truer. We parents of special needs kids deal with so many dynamics in regard to that statement. When we get frustrated with some aspect of our child, we have to stop and try to see it through their lenses. When we see someone staring in disgust at our child in public, we have to stop and consider that they have zero experience in our world and have no idea what’s going on. When people try to offer up suggestions that are of no help, it’s really easy to get frustrated with those people. But we have to stop and recognize that they probably wouldn’t have said anything if they weren’t trying to help. This list goes on and on.

It’s amazing how much this idea of seeing people through their own lenses has impacted my life. It comes up nearly every day for me. And almost every day I’m challenged with some aspect of it. Why can’t Jamie and I agree 100% on how to handle every situation? Why do our friends or family continue to make the same mistakes around our son? Why can’t Max just go to sleep at night? Why can’t he curb his anger over the dumbest things? Why can’t he understand that he can’t punch his family members?

In regard to Max, what would it look like if I could step inside his mind and first-hand see his life perspective? Is nighttime a multi-dimensional hell in which Max sees and feels the darkness as something that is out to destroy him? Does he experience pain when he gets angry and wishes more than any of us that he could shut the anger off? Does violence repulse him too, and the pain of not being able to control it feels worse for him than any blow he can deliver to one of us? When I work with him on his fine motor skills, does he just want to cry because it’s like asking a paraplegic to walk?

These are questions I have to ask myself daily. These are the questions that Jamie and I lay awake at night talking about. If we could only see Max through his lenses… Our parenting style would likely radically change. But we will never know what he sees and feels. We can only pray that someday he will be able to articulate it. Until then, compassion has to trump everything as we run the autism gauntlet, hand in hand with our son.

But it’s easier said than done. Our neurotypical brains default to society’s version of right and wrong. Sound judgment of what we know to be true cause and effect is always our starting point. Breaking down those barriers is possibly the hardest fought battle in our life with an autistic son. How do we balance what we know to be right with compassion for our son who is wired completely differently?

That leads me to my next point. As an outsider, what do you see? When you see me parenting way different than you would, do you get frustrated, or do you say to yourself “I’ve never walked a day in his shoes. I won’t pretend to know how to navigate this.” When you read my blogs about the mental stress I live with, do you wonder why I can’t just keep my chin up and put on a happy face?

Those questions were rhetorical. I know I’m doing the best I possibly can. I know I don’t always get it right, but I know that I’m the only dad God trusts with my son. I take that responsibility very seriously and will do my absolute best until the day I die. And quite frankly, I don’t have a ton of time to worry about what others think.

While this is a blog about living with autism in our family, I think we can all gain a little perspective by trying to view those around us through their lenses. If we didn’t have love and compassion in this world, it would be utter chaos. And to gain more love and more compassion for those around us, we have start seeing people through the lenses of their past and current circumstances.

Lord, help me see people how you see them. I could always use a little more compassion. Help me parent my son without my preconceived notions. I just want what you want for him. And with respect to those around me, I pray that they would have compassion on me as well. Give them a little glimpse into what it’s like to walk in my shoes. Help us all see each other through different lenses.

Chad Youngquist