God Always Leads the Way

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Karen Sutherland
Dan enjoys listening to his music CDs, as well as making his own music. He plays the piano, the keyboard, the autoharp and the chimes.

At some time in God’s great plan, He will display His works in your child. … Your extra-special child will become an extra-special object lesson to others. He will be a model of specific truths God will communicate to others. – Chuck Swindoll, Evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator and radio preacher

My son, Dan, has a collection of about 100 CDs. His favorite foods are pizza, hot dogs and fried chicken. He loves to ride his bike, he bowls weekly, and he loves his family. He loves music and can play the piano, keyboard, autoharp and chimes.

Dan is also autistic. Sometimes his handicap makes him talk too loud, appear withdrawn or engage in certain ritualistic behaviors.

I’ve always appreciated the people who go out of their way to be kind to Dan and to interact with him, and I am grateful that God has put so many of these people in our lives.

Diagnosis came at young age

When Dan was 2 or 3, my husband’s company transferred us to Memphis, Tennessee. It was a difficult time. I’d just lost my father and both of my remaining grandparents, and I was pregnant with our second child. On top of that, I had no idea why Dan wasn’t talking the way a child his age should.

In Memphis, we found a pediatrician, who, after spending only a few minutes with Dan, told us our son was retarded. I knew that wasn’t true, because Dan could spell words with letter blocks at 18 months old, and he knew all the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Eventually, Dan was evaluated by a team of specialists. The head of the team – and God’s gift to us – was psychologist Dr. Sam Morgan. He ordered a battery of tests, and when the test results came back, the entire team of doctors agreed that Dan was autistic.

Caring people to the rescue

Lucky for us, Memphis had just established a program for autistic children, one of only five places in the country at the time. Lee Metzger, whose husband had also been transferred to the area through his job, was the lead teacher, and I felt as though God had moved our two families across the country to get Dan the help he needed.

Three years later, we moved back home, and by then there was a program in place for children with autism.

Others who helped Dan also stand out in my mind: Ginny Marohn, a music teacher who came every week for 15 years to teach Dan to play the piano; the wife of our scout master, Karol McCormick, who went to the Boy Scout Board and insisted Dan be in the scouts; and Pastor John Wiens, who allowed Dan to attend the two-year confirmation program, even though he knew there were some aspects of the program that would be beyond Dan’s grasp.

Living with autism

Dan held a job for 12 years at a nursing home, where his job responsibilities included mopping the floors and washing dishes, and he loved it. One of his bosses once told me that Dan would come to work every day and thank her for letting him work there that day.

Five years ago, Dan and I left the church we had attended for some 20 years to join College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, where there is a wonderful program for people with disabilities. In fact, the disabled are an important part of the church family, and because of that, Dan has had the opportunity to do things I never thought I would see him do.

He has sung solos in our worship services, played the autoharp and chimes, and he has been the narrator for Christmas programs – all because of a church that practices what it preaches, and preaches what it believes.

I’m thankful to God for giving me a wonderful son, and also for putting so many thoughtful, caring people into Dan’s life – and mine.

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