Jeremiah 29:11 has long been among my favorite Bible verses.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
These words have comforted me in times of grief, confusion, sadness, and worry. Despite the varied circumstances, they have always brought hope, just as promised.
When Ben was diagnosed with autism, there were some tears, some frustrations, and some grief, grief over what we thought may be lost dreams over a future we had hoped for our son. But to be honest, there was also almost a sense of relief in that we finally had an answer as to why our little guy was struggling. We still didn’t know what to do to help him, but at least we knew what to ask about and how and from whom to seek answers. This brought us a bit of hope. Hope that we could now push forward and find him the help he needed. Hope for his future, challenges and all. Hope.
Fast forward 19 months and here we are. Our boy has made so much progress. He no longer retreats to his room when visitors arrive. He no longer arches his back, waling in frustration. He no longer lines up his movies just to make a simple selection. He no longer recoils when grandparents, aunts and uncles want to hug and love on him. He is so much more a part of our world and we have learned how to join him in his, and let me tell you, that is a fun place to be! Rigorous, intense, but fun!!
Don’t be fooled, it’s a world with a lot of challenges, but this boy has such a fun personality, the challenges are so worth it. Individuals living with autism often struggle with sensory processing issues. For some, certain touches, textures, feelings are very difficult to process and cause physical pain. For others, it’s noises. Still others struggle with different visual sensations. It’s just different for every individual.
There aren’t many things that really trigger anxiety for Ben. He really does a pretty good job of tolerating several things that often upset those on the spectrum. For example, there are seven of us living in a two bedroom home, so he doesn’t really have his own space. This doesn’t bother him. The seven of us tend to create a lot of noise and well, chaos. This, too, seems to be irrelevant (and thank heaven for that!!). Getting his hair cut is a fun thing for him, especially the buzz and tickle of the clippers. (This amazes every expert we’ve encountered!) But getting his nails trimmed, that’s a tough one for Ben. He’d much rather I use the little scraper thing on a set of clippers to clean dirt out from under his nails than to clip them off. This is so much the case that for six years now, I’ve trimmed his nails while he sleeps because if I tried it when he was awake, there were tears and doubled over cries of pain, pleading with me to “take it off”. “It” being the pain he felt from having his nails cut. You needn’t explain to me that nails don’t have feeling and no, I hadn’t cut his fingers, only the nail. This is just a situation that caused him great sensory overload.
In the last few months, we’ve been able to help him with snagged nails and occasionally clip off a hangnail or two. This alone is progress, but last night, as we were motoring through the bedtime routine, I noticed that a couple of his nails were reaching epic proportions and really needed to be taken care of before he took an eye out. He was in good spirits, laughing and giggling as he sang out “Cinderellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.” Why he did this, we’re not sure other than he did it once while playing and we all laughed.
Laughter used to be a trigger that would send him to tears, but we are so thankful that progress has brought us to a point where he loves it and the more he can make us laugh, the better. If we can find a way to join him in whatever he’s doing to cause the laughter, bring out the tissues, our boy can bust a belly.
So, when I joined him in his “Cinderella-ing”, he giggled. He laughed. He doubled over with delight.
Figuring this was my chance, I grabbed the clippers and started cleaning his nails. He watched intently and called out to Cinderella. I clipped, held my breath and waited for the downward spiral that was sure to come. He stopped, the room fell silent, and then he laughed. And sang out “Cinderellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” again. I sang with him and clipped again. And he laughed, again. And in my heart of hearts my soul sang out, “Sweet Jesus, this is really happening!” I was clipping my son’s fingernails!!
This happened for 10 nails. Count them. All 10 nails. I wasn’t sure this day would ever come. We missed bedtime by a longshot last night, but it was so worth it. We harmonized Cinderella like never before and we were still giggling over it as I tucked him into bed when his younger sister strolled into the room and without missing a beat put one hand on her hip, gave a little wave with the other hand and said, “Oh here I am, Prince Charming.”
He looked at her; silence descended upon the room and I was sure the fun had come to an end when I was surprised by our guy’s biggest belly laugh of the night, followed by several repetitions of the same interaction between the twosome. And so it is, fingernail clippings became the picture of hope, answered prayers for progress, and a restored hope for the future.