With a new baby at home, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to these contest recaps as I like, but for this competition, I knew I needed to make some time… no excuses. I considered focusing on the fun, wacky shenanigans that ensued all day at the show, such as my partner in crime Dustin Patrick nearly intercepting a 40 pound sandbag on two separate occasions as they hurled towards the judge’s chair. I thought perhaps I would tell you about how grueling the events were, as evidenced by the numerous pairs of soiled underwear populating the bathroom trash receptacles after our squat event. I figured surely I would regale the tales of so many epic performances, like Jacob Bobbs pulling a 380 pound lift on the Country Crush (a world class performance).
But I’m not going to spend much more time discussing those things. Instead we’re going to talk about autism.
“Why would you spend hundreds of hours and raise thousands of dollars to aid autism-related causes?” “What is autism?” “Why is it so important?” “Isn’t autism just socially awkward kids who are secretly geniuses or something?”
Many of you… no, let’s be honest, most of you, don’t know much about autism. That’s OK, and it’s OK to admit that, versus pretending otherwise. Autism is a condition characterized by atypical development of the brain. It is described as a “spectrum”, and has wide range of symptoms, some more common than others, with an extremely diverse range of severity. The picture of the socially awkward savant that Hollywood paints for us is representative of a very small percentage of people with autism. This may get a little uncomfortable, but I want everyone who bothers to read this to see more of the picture, so that you can understand why we host Strength for Autism, and why a day does not go by where I do not think about the condition and the people whose lives it effects.
Let’s get uncomfortable, you and me together. Let’s talk about the 3yr old that slams his head into the floors and walls almost constantly. His skull as a hammer and the world as his nail. His mother cries daily at the behavior, and no doctors have been able to help. Let’s discuss the 7yrold that digs his fingers into his rectum, and smears feces on himself and his surroundings daily. This behavior may persist in various degrees into adulthood. Let’s “get real” and have a chat about the 31yr old man with severe autism that may never be able to earn a living on his own, may never drive a car, and may never make love to a woman.
Too serious? Are we uncomfortable yet? For those that do not have children with autism, this is not going to help you understand autism, but it may help you understand that you don’t understand. For those that do, this is for you to know that you’re not alone. Let’s go a step further, if you’re still willing to take this journey with me.
The parents of the boy who smashes his head into the wall don’t know what to do. His mother tries every day to comfort him, and it never works, but she tries every day for years. Every day it hurts her heart just as badly; it never gets easier. “A mother should be able to comfort her child” she thinks, and the feelings of inadequacy and failure linger day in and day out. Dad looks at the baseball glove his father gave him as a boy, and wonders if they’ll ever be able to use it. They feel unfit, unprepared, and lost, but they keep trying their best to raise their son everyday out of love.
The 7yr old that has the rectum issues doesn’t just magically cease to have those issues in public.Hundreds of hours of occupational therapy, developmental specialist visits, ABA therapy, speech therapy, and the thousands of dollars those services cost in addition to the thousands of dollars spent on medications, supplements, and special diet plans have done little to curb the behavior.Mom gets awful looks from strangers when the boy engages in the behavior in public, and has her feelings hurt by well-meaning friends who offer what they believe is useful advice by saying “well I would just do this and that” or “So and so did this and it fixed the problem for little Billy down the street”. They don’t know that momma tried their proposed miracle method daily for over 18 months. She tries everything the medical professionals suggest, and she does it out of love.
What about the parents of our 31yr old? They are getting to more advanced age now, and daily care of their beloved son becomes more difficult by the year. They won’t be around forever, and they know it. Who will take care of their son after they are gone? Who could possibly love him enough to care for him like they do? What will his quality of life be like when they aren’t around anymore? If they live into their 90’s they will still try to take care of him then, because of love.
Love is not just a feeling. Love is actions. It takes love to raise a child who you cannot comfort and no one can tell you how or why. It takes love to deflect all the disgusted looks of strangers,and the hurtful comments from well-meaning friends and family. It takes love to care for someone every single day knowing that the day may come when you can no longer do so, and that your son will not be able to fend for himself after you’re gone.
Love is why we do this silly strongman contest. Love is why we donate the money to charitable causes that help people with autism and the families of people with autism. Even if you didn’t think much about it when you signed up to compete, help, or donate, you took action by doing so, and taking action to help others shows love.
Thank you all for your time, your energy, your donations, and mostly, thank you for your love.
- Dad of a son I love very much who happens to have autism.