Haven Universe has been a great blessing to our family. Anne and I moved to Maryland two years ago with our then 21 year old son, David. He is autistic.
We’d done it before, moving from Georgia to Illinois in 2005. We knew that transitioning would be difficult for David, just as it had been for us 10 years earlier.
This time was different. In addition to our change in location, David was transitioning from high school and he was also transitioning into adulthood. It was a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps it’s easier to see in hindsight, now that we’ve experienced it on two separate occasions. Life is not easy for special needs folks. They have feelings, too. It is just much more difficult for them to express what is going on inside of them. Their response to changes in their lives might resemble the response of a much smaller child when their needs are not met. And so it was for David. He let us know that he was not happy.
The problem is, David is 6’ 2” and weighs 230 pounds. He’s strong. The good news is, David has a good heart. Most of the time, he’s happy to visit with his Grandma, to play with his dog, Rufus, to watch golf on weekends with his family and to spend hours emailing photos to himself on his iPad. Yet, like all of us, he has moments of frustration. Part of our job as parents is to help him process it, but we quickly discovered, we could not do it alone.
Fortunately, we found a place that gave us comfort. Through Haven Universe, we found acceptance at a time when we were, quite frankly, very difficult to accept by any social standard.
First of all, we found a place to have fun. Like many special needs families, our natural tendency was to confine ourselves to the house as a response to difficult behaviors, but it came at a great cost. We needed a place where we could go. We needed to be among people who understood how difficult it can be. We found it at Haven Universe. For a few hours, we were able to forget about the challenges of being a special needs family. The activities at Haven Universe are adapted, so it was not difficult to find something that would engage David, just to give him a glimmer of hope on which to build toward a new life with new friends.
Though he didn’t know how to express his grief over the loss of his friends in Illinois, David clearly needed someone to care. At Haven Universe, people are friendly. They are not afraid or uncomfortable or uncaring. They get it. I could practically see the anxiety melt away as David was welcomed and accepted.
As his father, I know that he is aware of his surroundings at a level that many do not understand. He knows when he is in a good place among good people. Though I’m beginning to understand more about David, I’m still learning about the hidden abilities of the “disabled.” I’m learning to look beyond the limitations that I place on others, including my own son. I can thank Haven Universe for helping me to see it.
Indeed, Anne and I also needed a community of acceptance. We found that, as well. We’ve met so many wonderful people through Haven Universe, including new opportunities for more involvement. We met Jackie Zamora, the founder of Zamdance. We met folks who helped us navigate the best available resources for helping David. Dr. CT Gordon, the founding father of Haven Universe, offered a much needed referral into a psychiatric practice that was not accepting new patients. We met other families who lifted our spirits, giving us the same hope that we would build a new life in Maryland.
Perhaps most important of all, we’re discovering David’s need for the saving grace and life principles taught by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m a bit ashamed to admit, I never really expected David to grasp the basic tenets of my own faith. Instead, I believed that David’s often selfish tendencies were irreversible. I believed it was simply an inherent trait among people on the spectrum. Not so. The difference is, they must be taught to look outside themselves. They must learn to engage people on a different level. This is one of the greatest lessons that Jesus taught us. We are to love others. David does love others. He just needs help in how to process his feelings and how to find joy through his interactions with the people around him.
I’m encouraged by this experience. It’s not easy. We will have new challenges. But, I’m reminded that David is here for a reason. Perhaps the most important reason is to help his dad look deeper to find value in others. No matter what, I’m learning to look beyond our differences into the greater majority of traits and attributes which bind us together as human beings. It is a difficult lesson for anyone without an example. For me, David is that example. He is teaching me to continue through the most difficult of times to find the potential that is sometimes locked within. Not just for special needs folks, but for everyone. Perhaps David is also an example of how we might all benefit through the guiding principles and the servant leadership model taught by Jesus. As Dr. Gordon says, it’s simple.
Finally, I must also thank the Haven Ministry at Damascus Road Community Church, Dr. Lance Clawson, Service Coordination, Inc., Maryland DDA, Family Service Foundation, Zamdance, Special Olympics, and Noteable Progressions. We are blessed to find so many great resources!