This is a post by Stephen Griffin. He and his wife Kimberly have three teenagers – Sydney, Matthew and Noah and live in Madisonville, Louisiana. Matthew was diagnosed 15 years ago with severe autism and still is not verbal - but that has never slowed their family down.
“I diagnose your son as being mentally retarded or severely autistic”. It is hard to believe that it has been over 15 years since my wife Kimberly and I heard that diagnosis of our middle child Matthew. So we did what most parents would do – whatever it takes. Kimberly quit her job to care for Matthew and I started my own CPA firm to provide for more flexibility and resources. Like most parents we have tried everything and read every book. Although Matthew is still not verbal – he has come such a long way.
One thing we decided early on was that we were not going to let Matthew’s autism limit our family from any activity. And it hasn’t. I have been fortunate to coach over 60 athletic teams that our other children Sydney (18) and Noah (15) played on and I now coach the Archbishop Hannan High School girls basketball team. Matthew in some way has touched so many of those other kids and their families and is now a part of the Hannan family. We even have an award named after him given to a player at the end of the season. Matthew has been at every game and most practices.
If we do anything he is with us – from crawfish boils to Saints games - he is always with us.
So when Sydney, who is an avid runner, said let’s do the Crescent City Classic as a family in April for Matthew and autism awareness – we were all in. And all means not only Matthew and our immediate family but aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and friends. We had runners, walkers and pushers (stroller and wheel chair) and pullers (ice chests) for the six mile “race”. We had blue autism awareness shirts for everyone and most of us walked together. It was awesome! How often do you get to spend that much time with your family – including your teenage children - just walking and talking?
Matthew has been taking gymnastics once a week since he was very young and he loves to walk on curbs. One 3.5 mile stretch of the race was down Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans that has a curbed neutral ground. Matthew walked the entire way on the curb – one foot in front of the other. Matthew has taught us so much more than we have taught him – and maybe that is the most important thing – just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will get there. It’s really that simple. He has brought so many of us together and taught us to really appreciate the simple things in life – a smile, a hug, even sometimes just a look. You hear the rallying cry of cure autism – I agree. But you know what - I think autism is curing us.
A friend of mine called me a few days following the race after checking the results. He said what happened – you finished 3rd to last in our 45-50 year old age group and it took you almost 3 hours. I said yes – and it was 3 of the best hours of my life.
Matthew and other individuals with autism are not 1 in 68. They are 1 in a lifetime. He is what his name stands for – a gift from the Lord.