“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
God is so amazing! I often find myself reflecting on my current path as a means to understand how God is able to use me in certain situations. When I moved down to North Carolina a few months ago I never anticipated being on the path I am currently on – in an immeasurably good way. The friendships I have been able to forge in such a short amount of time leaves me feeling grateful each night my head hits the pillow.
One of the surprising friendships I have begun to develop over the past couple of months is with a 14 year old boy who has Autism. Each morning I am with him I am reminded of just how well God knows me. He couldn’t have picked a more perfect child to put in my path.
This little boy has an insatiable passion for music – you will usually catch us jamming out to George Straight, Chris Young or Beethovan (in that order!)…but our favorite being Amazing Grace by Alabama…as we worship the King and shout “Amen” and “Hallelujah” (arms reaching to the sky) because we both love the Lord! This little boy also loves to hug (another favorite of mine!) While his words are limited, it is not uncommon to hear him whisper, “I need a hug…” with my response always being, “how did you know I needed one too?” He is one of the most loving and caring teenagers I have ever met.
While I could go on and on about how much this little boy has blessed me, the greatest reward I receive each day by serving him is encouragement.
When I think about the true meaning of encouragement, I immediately think of specific words or phrases I use to uplift or support HIM… “Great job!” “You are doing so amazing!” “You are so smart!” “I am so proud of you!”
In fact, if you were a fly on the wall during my sessions with him, you would hear these phrases quite frequently and directed towards a specific task. “I am so proud of you for eating three bites of your turkey! You are such a big boy!!” (He hates turkey lol).
I used to think that I didn’t need encouragement – that I was “self-motivated.” HA! That is funny! We all need encouragement. But, children with autism REQUIRE it! It helps them stay focused and on task and even more important, it reminds them just how special and amazing they truly are!
Because of the frequency of my encouraging words, I often find myself being more encouraged each time I encourage him. Why? Because it’s sincere, it’s from my heart and I mean it. I never encourage him without a smile on my face. Again you ask, why? Because he will think it’s fake. Just like a typically developed person, kids with autism are very perceptive to facial expressions and feelings. They recognize when you hurt, when you are angry, when you are sad and….when you don’t care.
How many times have you been encouraged by someone and it felt “insincere” or “fake.” Having taught in several different schools, I noticed this a lot; teachers who attach sarcasm to their encouragement. Or a boss whose words often feel discouraging even though they intended to encourage you. How motivated would you be if the encouragement you were receiving was phony? Sadly, in the special needs field, this happens a lot as caregivers seem to think the child ‘won’t understand.’
But I digress. The point is, the more we encourage, the more we are encouraged! And it’s more than words that encourage; it’s how we say it and how the other person responds to what we say.
Are they responding positively or negatively?
Does it really make you proud? (How does it make you feel when you say it and they accomplish the task?)
When I work with him, never do I hear the words “I am so proud of you Ms. Kristen.” But yet, every day I leave him feeling more encouraged than when I started…EVEN on the bad days; I don’t need him to use words to encourage me. It’s what I like to call “unspoken encouragement.” And it’s really easy to receive too…all we have to do is give! No need to wonder if the other person really thinks you are amazing. You will know it but how they respond and how it makes you feel when they accomplish what you encouraged them to do…even if it is just eating three bites of a food they don’t like or reading a book from “beginning to end.” In fact, unspoken encouragement is about the only type of encouragement I know of that you can receive and be in complete control of.
Even though he doesn’t always like the tasks on his schedule or the choices he is given, him and I are buds. I encourage him in the little things and the big things. I show him love and I mean it. And I am always encouraged because even on the bad days he still calls me, “My Kristen.”
Encourage often and you too will receive encouragement.
(Permission to use his photo and story was okay’d by mom.)