In 2018, I walked through the hardest year of my life. My son, Kaiden, received an autism diagnosis. Six months later, my husband, Matt, boarded a plane to go halfway around the world to serve our country for a year.
So, there I was, trying to navigate the uncharted waters of all things therapy for my son while helping my daughter survive second grade. I felt like it was more than I could handle. But that is when we learn to lean on God’s everlasting arms.
Kaiden was first diagnosed through our local education system. I knew an official email with results would be arriving on a particular day, and I was refreshing the email on my phone five thousand times per minute. Then, finally, I saw it — a lengthy email with observations of Kaiden. I immediately scrolled to the bottom to find the final proposed diagnosis. Honestly, I hoped that it would say something like a “speech delay,” something that felt “fixable.” (I feel awful even writing that. It sounds like I thought my son needed to be “fixed.”) But the email didn’t say “speech delay.” Instead, it confirmed the fears that I had deep down inside of me — “Proposed diagnosis: Autism.”
Immediately, I texted my circle of close friends. I needed prayer and to hear that it was going to be OK. I needed to be rid of this sick feeling that I was going to throw up. The worst part of the ordeal was that my husband, Matt, was still at work, I had to share this information in person, and I had hours to wait. Meanwhile, I called a close friend. She prayed with me, and much to my surprise, she told me I was brave. “BRAVE!?” I said. “Allison,” she said, “You’re being brave because you aren’t afraid to look for answers in order to get your son what he needs.” Her words had some merit, especially since she was a schoolteacher and had seen so many parents chose denial after receiving a potential diagnosis.
There is a common misconception that kids need to fit into a box the world prescribes, and if they don’t, it somehow makes their parents believe they did something wrong. Even worse, some parents feel they need to hide from the truth that every child will not fit into the world’s standard. But God’s truth is that each is fearfully and wonderfully made.
When Matt returned from work, I showed him the email. He solemnly read the proposed diagnosis with an expressionless face while I stood there, crying my eyes out. Matt knew too that we had to be brave and search for answers and then give our son the absolute best options available to grow and develop. This was a decision, a commitment, that would cost us a year (probably more!) of separation. Six months later, we would have to make the decision for Matt to fly to Korea alone while I remained at home with our children to give Kaiden his best opportunities.
A few months after Matt left, we did confirm the diagnosis with a medical professional. Kaiden indeed has autism. They also considered him “nonverbal,” meaning he doesn’t communicate orally. I remember sitting home alone and hearing God’s voice say, “This isn’t final.” Not that Kaiden’s diagnosis wasn’t final, but instead that the feelings of anxiety and failure as a mama weren’t final. Little did I know at the time, but God was going to use my son to do amazing things in my life. The crazy thing about God’s timing is that it’s not always ours or perhaps how we want it to be.
As I was walking through that most challenging year, God literally flung (as in He moved someone across the nation, which left a position on staff at my church open) the door open for me to work in ministry. Ministry. The field of work where people need you to help, mentor, guide, and disciple them. I could barely guide myself, and God was calling me to take a step of faith and start working again — in kids’ ministry at The Church at Severn Run (TCSR).
I can tell you that I walked through that door like a woman on a mission. I believe deep down that Kaiden’s diagnosis was part of my calling or my purpose in life.
I felt that somehow God could use me and our story to encourage other families on this hard road.
Several months into working in ministry, I found myself at the annual Special Needs Conference sponsored by the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and The Banquet Network (TBN). Within the first thirty seconds, I was in tears. I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who felt the call to minister with individuals who are affected by special needs. Three years later, I stood on a stage during that same annual conference, and I was able to share my story.
God knew exactly what He was doing when he gave me my son. He has used Kaiden to provide me with a purpose. To give me a reason to stand when I want to sit. A reason to speak when it’s easier to remain silent.
I’ve always loved the story of Esther, especially the part when she decides how to confront her fears. Esther 4:14 reads, “… Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Through reading and meditating on that particular Scripture, I realized God did have a purpose for my life and that I had to stop blaming myself for Kaiden’s diagnosis. It is one of the greatest privileges of my life to be the mama of a child who has special needs.
Perhaps you are reading this, and you can relate to receiving a diagnosis that causes your child to be “different” from what the world expects. If so, I want you to take a deep breath (no, really, do it!). Now, read these words slowly: You are brave. You are brave because you are searching for answers on how to best help your child. And even though I may not personally know you, I want to tell you I’m proud of you.
Every night before Kaiden goes to bed, I say the same thing to him: “I love you, Kaiden. I’m so proud to be your mama, and God has big plans for you!” I hope, and I pray that God will use me to show him that those words are true.
Visit our BCM/D Special Needs page for more information about our special needs ministry.
Allison Fournier now serves as the Kids’ Leader at TCSR, but on Sept. 12, 2021, she will transition to Coaching and Programs Manager with TBN.
Cover photo: Kaiden and Allison Fournier spend a few moments laughing together (photo by Matt Fournier).