Changing Perceptions and Loose Teeth

By J.C. Mitchell

Recently my son lost his first tooth.  I am honestly not ready for this.  My child is growing up, but that is only part of the anxiety.  We were brushing his teeth the night he lost it--that is A.J., Mindi, and myself--because he will not cooperate with only one person brushing his teeth.   Having had cavities that required sedation to work on his mouth, we religiously have A.J. climb onto his mother’s lap and lay back onto my lap so while Mindi holds his arms, I hold his head and brush with the other hand upside down.  It has become the start of the bedtime routine.  Even he does not fight this two-on-one procedure, but if one of us is out at a church meeting, he knows he has a chance to fight when it’s one-on-one.

The tooth had been loose for about a week, and every night I would test its wiggle.  AJ was annoyed at this wiggle and this particular night it basically popped right out, with a slight tug.  A.J. finished getting his teeth and gums brushed.  When we stood  him upright he was rewarded with parental cheers, but it was obvious he did not know what he had done.  I handed him the tooth and he held it for a few seconds, but without looking at it he dropped it to the floor.  He was interested in the gap with his tongue for a minute.  Mindi had him pose about a dozen shots on her phone before she captured the newly formed gap.  I must admit I am glad she persisted.

It was exciting to us, but not to A.J., and not even the two dollar bill he received perked any interest.  I can remember losing my teeth.  I even had a special pillow that had a pocket for the tooth.  I recall saving the valuable coin (and they were of value then), for candy.  I have to admit the excitement of the lost tooth and even the ritual of leaving currency for the child’s tooth was for me and my wife (and perhaps the Grandmothers who ask about such things).  It is so blatantly different from our own personal experiences of losing our teeth that we cannot compare our experience to our son’s experience of losing his tooth..  We had to learn how to brush his teeth from a pediatric dentist, something we would not have learned on our own or even from other parents we know.

We even have a team of people, some paid by taxes and others through our insurance premiums and our own funds, to help create and keep his goals and plan for learning. All of that is not needed for neurologically typical children, but when you have a child with special needs this is the IEP team, and yes, it costs money.  This is very different from my wife’s and my own experiences in school.

Now we do this for our individual children as we should, and I would say we need to do a lot more as a society and as the church.  I of course believe we need to work to welcome everyone to the table, no matter one’s ability.  However, I am sharing this story of my son’s tooth to help the church.  I am hopeful that those in the church can sense from the story above that having a child with special needs takes a lot of energy, effort, and emotional energy.  And while your church may reach out to this community and work to move from accommodation to invitation, I want the church universal to see what I learned.

My personal aspirations and expectations for the church are not based on my past and my history as much as it is on my son’s needs and strengths.  Now my wife and I were never trained on autism, but we are really part of a team that starts in our home, extends to the school, the district, the private speech and occupational therapists, and the community (which is very supportive and important). 

I know churches often find themselves in a new situation that doesn’t look and act like anything they experienced before.  However, instead of turning to experts, they continue to try to ignore the issue.  From solo-pastorates to multi-staff churches, from organic planters to team church starts, we are all in a new place.  But are we taking advantage of all the resources?

Of course we do not, partly because of expense and time, and partly because we are not aware of our needs and the resources available for us.

The real question is have we realized our individual church history is simply that--our respective church history? It may not, and probably is not, a good indication of what the present church needs. 

I am reminded at home how important it is to check with experts and the community, because my personal history has not prepared me for my ministry at home or church.  It’s time to do our research, consult with others, and be open to new opportunities, possibilities, and resources.