I met Denise Schamens for the first time at the McLean Accessibility Summit several weeks ago. She shared with me a remarkable story demonstrating the impact her local church had upon her family…especially the impact of church upon her son (Sam). Sam is diagnosed with autism and receives therapy to help him improve his communication skills. Denise graciously agreed to share her family’s story with our readers as we wind down our celebration of Autism Awareness Month. Here’s Denise…
Who knew Monday, August 5th, 2013 would be a pivotal turning point in my children’s spiritual journey… and a turning point for me as a parent to look at them with fresh eyes! Renewed eyes of love that my children have chosen a path I have prayed for long and hard!
To understand this path, we need to go back…
“Living by example” has always been the line that plays in my head. Placed there by a very loving, wise, older woman in my first women’s bible study over 10 years ago. At that time, I was just beginning to attend our church and my husband was not yet walking the same path as I.
I felt alone, but somewhat at peace that this is where God wanted me. I had just had my daughter and checked her in the daycare to be able to be fed Spiritually by these powerful women. God was working in me and I knew I had to be obedient. Both my boys were in school full time. My oldest son, Jacob was just diagnosed with ADHD, and my son, Sam was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Autism had invaded our world. We were deep into therapy with up to 5 people at any given time coming into my home to work with Sam. I dove into the autism world to find out what I could do for my son.
The ADHD world was mysterious and elusive to me. I didn’t know how to make right the feelings of “is it behavioral or is his neurology different?” Not finding much support in this area, we tried so many options and kept failing.
My husband, Mike found his place in our church, coaching Upward Basketball with our son Jacob. My prayers for him to walk the same road with me were fulfilled! The next year he gave his life to Jesus to my amazement and thrill!
Each year we dove more and more into our church, volunteering and serving in areas that fed us spiritually and brought us together as a family. We started paying one of Sam’s therapists to attend service with him, so he was able to participate in the classrooms and my husband and I could sit together during service. Some days it was a struggle to get everyone there, and to have Sam in a “good” place, in an environment that didn’t really have any training to support him. But they loved on him in a way that a church should and welcomed him and his therapist each week.
Some days were really hard, when Sam would get away from one of us and we would lose him for a short time in the building. Minutes that seem like an eternity for a mother of a child on the spectrum! There would be the looks and questions about his behavior or noise level. All part of the territory. God was working in me again…obedience!
Somedays, it felt like my other two kiddos were just along for the ride. Were they being fed spiritually? Was God working in their lives? I had met many women there that were dealing with some pretty heavy stuff with their children. Drugs, alcohol, running away, fighting, getting in trouble with the law.
I had always been a good listener, and listening to their own journeys had stirred some pretty scary feelings in me as a mother. I saw that they just kept coming to church and trying to get their kids involved in some way in that community. The women who didn’t keep bringing them and left them at home or didn’t find ways to have them serve, struggled day after day. I watched.
We kept coming, each one of us weaving our own journeys separately. As Jacob reached middle school age and found a love for technology, he started serving in our children’s ministry as a cameraman. He started working closely with the Tech team leader. The Tech team leader started working with me and my new non-profit to produce a movie, in which Jacob had a major part. Our whole family was part of this production and it brought us together again. God sure places people in your life for a purpose. He opens doors that we need to see and walk through!
My daughter, who is a product of constant social therapy, from Sam’s walk with autism, is an amazing young lady. She communicates and makes friends easily! God gave her many gifts, drama (the good kind) empathy, sensitivity, and a huge heart! She thrived in church and loved getting involved in the children’s ministry Christmas productions. Again, we all got involved, which brought us together again. God’s always working! I see that in every part of our journey!
Sam was now in middle school and finding more ways to live with his autism. We had stumbled upon a technique for communicating that Sam used only in school to test his reading comprehension. He was making huge strides academically and learning to express himself with his Speech Therapist. She was his speech therapist way back when he was in preschool. She re-entered his world as a RPM therapist who now had a new way for him to communicate…another person placed perfectly in our world by God!
We continued this way year after year. I continued to pray for each of my children, trusting that God had his hand in everything.
Which brings us to that God ordained, Monday in August! All three of my children and I had just finished wrapping our auditions for my non-profit’s new film. We went out for pizza with a family friend. The conversation somehow went to Baptism. Jacob said very matter-of-factly…I want to be baptized. My Mommy heart burst with amazement! I kept my cool and calmly talked about when that could happen. My daughter Anna chimed in with her desire to be baptized as well! Gushing! As I sat there stunned and trying to soak up every glorious minute of this event, I thought out loud….wouldn’t it be amazing if we found out where Sam is in his spirituality? If we could find out what he believes, and if it was what we had hoped, all three could share their amazing stories together! Talk about impact! That night, as I shared the whole evening with my husband, I was moved to tears and thankfulness! What a blessing this could be, not just for our family, but to all the families that I know! Those that struggle with bringing their children with special needs to church with them, for fear of all the judgment, uneasiness, and embarrassment that it might bring. For all the families that have lost children, not able to convince them that hearing a God filled message can help them find their way!
Joshua 1:9 kept me focused on what would lie ahead!
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, God will be with you and will never forsake you!
The next week, I brought Sam to see his RPM therapist in her home for his weekly session. Luckily, I record each session, because what was to unfold was all God’s doing and plan! I asked him if he wanted to talk about God. He spelled out “yes.” I asked if he understood what it means to be baptized? He spelled out “it means to accept Jesus into your heart.”
He asked if we could all do it together, we discussed that his father and I had been baptized years before, but his brother and sister would do it with him. I realized that after all of our discussion on baptism he had much more to discuss. He spelled out that he needed to know about God’s forgiveness. He asked because he had been really mad at God for giving him autism.
This is where the Holy Spirit took over and gave me the ability to answer his questions. It’s one of those times in your life as a parent you hope you can guide your child with scripture and share the Gospel with them.
To summarize, we all have struggles, it’s an opportunity for us to direct the attention to God and we can look at it as a gift, to make a difference in the world.
What’s next in this journey? I think the video can sum it all up! I am truly blessed by what God has done in all of our lives and continues to do each day! My message to you? Bring your children to church! Create systems if they do not exist! Invest in their spiritual future! It will pay off! All will be blessed!
Denise Schamens serves as Vice President and Treasurer of Good Friend, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to Autism Awareness, Acceptance, & Empathy ®. The mission of Good Friend is to create autism awareness, teach acceptance of differences, and foster empathy for students with ASD among their typically-developing peers.