I found Meredith through Instagram, drawn to her heart in encouraging parents with special needs children. As a parent herself with a child on the Autism Spectrum, she offers her personal experience, compassion, and desire to champion for those who need an advocate. Welcoming another mama’s heart to Redeemed In Grace today.
Guest Post by: Meredith Dangel
I never wanted to write about autism.
My little family blog, which I started when seemingly anyone with an internet connection had a blog, was meant to document our days and stay connected to our far-flung family and friends.
I never wanted to be an advocate.
You know the one, right? The attitude-bearing, button-wearing, walking bumper sticker that people avoid. I felt allergic to that. Honestly, I’m still allergic to that.
Yet, I am, without question, an advocate. I’d like to take you to the beginning, to share with you how God prepared me for this role, this passion, and this new career. The beginning, though, is my childhood and we don’t have time for that. I’ll take you instead to a feeling that was born inside me on the day a neighbor asked me a question about then 2.5-year-old Henry.
We didn’t know her well, but she was kind, bringing us a homemade cake just before Christmas and waving from her front porch whenever we pulled into the driveway. Standing in the front yard one afternoon, I shared how we were in the process of evaluating Henry for autism, but I was pretty sure the evaluation would be conclusive that he was, in fact, autistic. As she asked me questions about what autism means, I described it as best I could with just a few months of acquired knowledge. I’ll never forget what she asked then, not unkindly but uncomfortably: “So, they can learn the proper response to others’ emotions, but they don’t actually … feel it?” She gestured toward her heart as she said this.
I don’t know my exact response, but I remember fumbling. I tried to explain that, yes, they do feel, but my vocabulary was not yet nuanced enough to delve into the complexity of autism and the lack of empathy myth. On that day my effort to understand Henry, to support him with every resource Keith and I had to offer, blossomed into something more. I now wanted to help others understand too. I never again wanted to be stuck without words, to feel as if I had betrayed my son and those like him.
The path I’ve taken isn’t for everyone and I would never assume it should be. God has nudged me into sharing my own story, educating others about autism, and even changing my career. To ignore Him and to hold tightly to the gifts I’ve been given would be a great shame. I often say if I don’t share my knowledge, I don’t deserve to have it.
Day by day, year by year, God has formed me into a person I didn’t know I could be. In parenting, I do seek advice and never stop learning, but I also trust my instincts. I am confident that I know my son and that a good and loving Father provides each day all that Keith and I need to parent him.
In both my private and public life, I take more risks (calculated and prayerful, of course) and worry less. Maybe that’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a mom of a child with a disability, but this part of my identity has made me braver than I ever imagined. For Henry and, most importantly, for God, I would do anything.
I would even wear a fundraising t-shirt. Maybe even a button.
Meredith Dangel is a writer and speaker and soon-to-be mental health therapist who longs to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult – it can be beautiful.