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A Pastor's Wife Story on Autism

I decided to write down the following thoughts because of the painful reality and daily challenges of supporting a child with disabilities. At some point I had to accept a new normal, a new dream, and new goals for my son Ethan, and let go of the old ones. The cliché let go and let God, translated in to the daily surrender that I didn’t know what the future would hold for my precious two year old.

I am a mom, like many of you; I had a picture of what my child’s life would look like. I took the everyday childhood skills and developmental milestones for granted. I thought of course he will talk, his sister did. I expected a good report from the pediatrician at each check up in the early months of his life. Here is where my story of acceptance begins.

With my hands clinched and some questions in my head, I told the pediatrician Ethan, 18 months at the time was only saying the words “ma ma” and “da da” and that his communication was so limited that he had many outbursts and melt downs over simple needs. The pediatrician suggested that I have Ethan evaluated for delays. He was delayed in many areas and qualified for assistance by the state to begin therapy, and so we did when Ethan was 23 months. During one of the initial evaluations, a psychologist said on our way out, by the way “Ethan may have mild autism”, I said okay not really knowing what that meant. At three Ethan was diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder.

I was an emotional mess. WHY….God??? I had such big dreams for this little boy.

Why him God, he is so innocent, why would he have to suffer so much, or was it me who was suffering, worrying about what other people will think. Why was my marriage going to be so stretched, and finally why did depression seem like the only way to cope. During these dark days, I was shown the grieving process from a family counselor, but no one had died, why do I have to grieve like this? I needed to feel the feelings, cry and be angry in order to move forward. I also needed to keep a daily quiet time with God, I wasn’t alone. I was honest with my feelings. In Larry Crabb’s book Shattered Dreams he describes what we feel when are dreams are shattered. “it feels like someone kicked me in the stomach. I’ve gotten my breath back, but now all I can do is cry.” I also heard a description like this…”you will find the caverns of your soul, the deepest place that God allows us to find, I believe for His Glory, to help others.”

I wish I could say I started an awareness program, but God has given me more subtle opportunities and “divine appointments” to give to the autism community. I have met moms and families of children with autism and other disabilities who have needed encouragement, practical help, or resources.

I feel that there are certain steps that have helped me accept the journey:

A—Allow yourself to grieve and allow your child to grow at his or her speed.
C—Connect with God daily in a quiet time and with other people who are on the same journey
C—Celebrate with your child when he/she has success, no matter how small.
E—Express your feelings
P—Participate in your child’s therapy and school
T—Take time away. This is crucial, to that you can recharge and keep perspective.

Ethan is now 9 and still in therapy and special programs. He is still delayed, but has understandable speech. The bottom line is there is a purpose and plan for his life, as I heard another mom say, and I am here to support him not fix him because he isn’t broken.

If you wish to talk with Lisa, feel free to email her at

Lisa Gladen is now a stay at home mom with two children, Erika and Ethan. She has been married to Steve Gladen since 1989. Born and raised in Burbank, CA. She has her B.S. in Environmental Geology from the University of Illinois. Lisa is a wife, mom and pastor wife who resides in Orange County, CA.

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