This month’s One Faith, Many Paths Interview is with Claudine van Schoonven, who resides in the Phillipines. She has an autistic son named Luke and is a member of my group for Autistic Christians.
What was your childhood like?
I had a good childhood with good and bad memories but there are more good than bad. Thing is, my memory isn’t as good as when I was younger but I can honestly say, there are more happy memories in the past while growing up. I am the third child of four daughters. My sisters and I were very close to each other until we started drifting apart in our teens. We laughed, played, shared stories with and we slept in one big bedroom. The sister ahead of me and after me were bright students so I am always being compared to them. Growing up with two bright and accomplished sisters has been a roller-coaster of emotions. I have handled it well and I thought that it really was fine until I realized during my early adult years that it has indeed affected me. I have not realized how I thought of myself incapable of anything given that growing up always being compared to and disappointments from people I know. I have always thought I will never amount to anything like what my sisters can accomplish. I was the “stupid” one as all my relatives and such were accomplished men and women and went to the best universities or college in the country. I was the only one who did not get in to the most exclusive and only for the brightest students university in the country. I have always laughed it off and have such a good disposition that they were all resigned to the fact I am just an ordinary person who’s biggest asset is being the social butterfly wherever I go.
2. Tell me about your family.
The first person who told me I was smart was my husband Andre. He saw the “real” me behind those smiles and nonsense chit chats. He brings out the best in me always.
I met him on board a cruise ship as we were both working there. That was his first job and he recently just graduated from college and it was my 3rd job. I am a year older. Our love story began 1990 on board the beautiful MS Noordam. After almost 26 years of being together, we have 3 handsome sons ages 21, 17 and 11.
At age 3, we brought Luke to a developmental paedetrician because his nursery teacher advised us that Luke is unlike the other children. We did wonder as to why Luke isn’t talking as much at that age and every time I mention my concerns to friends they always say it is “normal” for some kids to talk late. He also has a different way of playing with his toys. He loves to spin the wheels of his cars, take apart what he can and look into it in deep concentration, lines up all his toys, dvds, books, basically anything he can line up. He watches shows with real people and didn’t like cartoons at all! His favourite was Mr Bean and always laughs at the same joke or scene. He loves to stop, pause, play in slow motion all his favorite shows if it’s on dvd. Our youngest son Luke was then diagnosed having ADHD but we believe he is in the autism spectrum. He was never officially diagnosed autistic because according to the doctor he can do eye contact and answer questions. Once, I chanced upon an article about Asperger’s Syndrome andupon reading it, I knew Luke is one! It described him to a T!! I asked the doctor about it and she dismissed it and said no Luke does not have Asperger’s Syndrome. We took her word and for 7 years, we thought Luke is a boy who has speech delay, below average development delays and have ADHD. I joined FB last 2013 and I see infos about autism. Joined these autism and ADHD pages and also groups. I was just a bystander during these period for months. The more I learned about autism, the more I am convinced Luke is one. In 2014, I joined a secret group and in a month’s time became one of the admins. It was a very good group and I learned a lot. The group is composed of autistic adults and teens with NT or ND parents with autistic children. Because of the group, we also learned that my husband is also autistic. He took the online tests and recognized himself in most of the members and more importantly gave him the identity that has long been denied of him. All the pieces that has been puzzling him all his life made sense to him.
3. Have you ever considered diagnosing Luke? What difficulties have you encountered?
We will still have Luke properly diagnosed. I believe it will be to his best interest if he is diagnosed as most people think of ADHD as an excuse of parents for “bad” behavior. Before we even brought him to a developmental paedetrician, we were already prepared that the doctor might say he is autistic. If I have to think of what I would have felt back then if that was the case, I must confess I will be devastated. I will think Luke’s life will mean therapies, that he will never know the joys of truly living, I will be scared to die because nobody will take care of him as I don’t want to burden his brothers, I will think of all negative things. All that has changed when I learned more about autism and have made friends with autistic adults around the world. They have opened my eyes that Luke is just different and will be ok. As a parent with a special needs child, I have felt isolated and alone. Yes, my friends are still there but
they could never truly feel what it is like. For the first 5 years after Luke has been diagnosed, I have cut ties with friends voluntarily as I focused on Luke, his therapies and school etc. It has its ups and downs. The ups are Luke was released in both his OT and speech after 7-8 years of continuous therapy. I was hands-on very much so. The downside is I have neglected my other sons especially my middle child. He felt resentment towards Luke and anger towards me. With a lot of prayers and open communication between our family,, we were able to resolve these issues. I will never be able to bring back those lost years with my middle son but I have vowed to be there for him when he needs me.
4. You told me you are home-schooling your children. What led to this decision?
Teachers and the school will never understand or will refuse to understand what accommodations special needs kids need. Luke has been bullied consistently by his own teachers either actively or passively
condoning the behaviours of the students who bully my son. Home-schooling as I have learned from other parents is the best option. I am still in the process of deschooling Luke at the same time I have never seen him happy and regain his self-worth which is for me is very important.
5. What is your favorite biblical passage?
My favourite passage in the Bible is Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.” This passage has been my constant companion. If I am sad and in a crisis, I always find comfort in those words. I know the Lord will not give me these trials if I am not capable of it. He is my strength especially if Andre is not with me as he is a seaman. It sums up everything I feel. Without God, I am nothing. With God, I can do everything.
6. Who are your favorite biblical figures besides Jesus?
Aside from Jesus, my favourite is Mary Magdalene and Mother Mary.
Mama Mary as I call her is my source of comfort too. She is a mother and whenever I have doubt when it
comes to children, I turn to her to help me and guide me. She has never failed me just like Her Son, Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is another woman whom I can relate to. She wasn’t born sinless and was not a “good” person as the Bible said. She was a prostitute yet she sought out Jesus and asked for forgiveness. Mary Magdalene in my humble opinion must have been forced to prostitution in dire need. She is an epitome of a person who after sinning, decides to turn her life around and serve Jesus. No pretensions. Just serve to her best. She is an epitome of a truly good Christian woman.
7. Who in your life makes you want to be a better person?
My family makes me want to be a better person. My husband and children bring out the best in me and because of them, I want to be a good wife and mother. They are my whole life and my whole heart.