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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

My Journey: Gold Medal Miracle

By Debra Edwards with Ian Richardson
Aug. 18, 2013

About 1 in 50 boys who begin Royal Rangers receives the Gold Medal of Achievement, one of the highest earned honors in the program.

Steven, my autistic son who was never supposed to be able to say a word, is that 1 in 50. This is his story.

Until he was about 18 months old, Steven developed normally. After a checkup, however, our family realized he was not progressing very quickly in a few areas. He kept to himself most of the time, and he didn’t speak. As I watched him for the next six months, I began to worry.

I set up an appointment for him at the local children’s hospital, and a team of doctors evaluated him for autism. I didn’t know what to think because I had never really heard the word autism. It was the early ’90s, and the condition received little publicity.

The doctors suggested we enroll Steven in a special school, even though he was only 2 at the time. The school was for children with all levels of autism. Some of the children in his class grew out of it, and I thought it was something Steven would eventually outgrow. So did many in our family.

But he didn’t outgrow it.

At age 3, Steven still couldn’t talk. The school asked us if the Delaware autistic program could evaluate both Steven and the rest of our family to make sure we weren’t doing anything to hinder his progress, such as talking for him.

Steven exhibited many autistic tendencies: humming, rocking, obsessing over lining things up, and not speaking. The specialists said his speech was at the level of a 6-month-old and his comprehension was at 9 months, but they said Steven was teachable. However, they told us he only had a 20 percent chance of ever talking.

It hit me just how serious Steven’s condition was. For a while, I wouldn’t even answer the phone because I didn’t want to keep repeating the diagnosis to family and friends.

Our family prayed for Steven constantly. We talked about him with our pastor and other people. We would take Steven to the altar for prayer frequently, and our church family agreed to pray for us through the entire process. At home, we would play Christian music for him, we would pray with him, and we would do whatever we could to create an environment full of the presence of God. But I still wondered if it made any difference.

During Sunday School, our pastor said something that changed my perspective. “The body can be disabled,” he said, “but the soul never is.”

I realized the need to keep doing things for Steven. I was reminded that even if Steven didn’t appear to hear me or to pay attention, his soul was being fed.

When Steven was 3, he began making sounds. We were so excited and told all our friends to keep praying. Words quickly followed. He was finally speaking.

We started taking Steven to Royal Rangers as soon as he was old enough to join. My husband, Gordon, is a Royal Rangers leader, and I am an Mpact teacher.

When Steven entered the program, we informed the outpost leaders about his situation and made it clear we didn’t want to put limitations on him. We wanted him to do the same things the other kids were doing instead of thinking he couldn’t earn the awards or should just be handed them without doing anything.

As Steven progressed through Royal Rangers, his autism and performance in school began to improve as well. His teachers noted he had a sense of humor. A lot of autistic children are very serious, and they take literally anything said to them.

However, Steven would do little things like take the teacher’s stapler, hide it in her closet, and go back to his desk and giggle. She would then make a big deal out of finding it, and he would be rolling on the floor laughing. She thought it was fantastic.

Steven still had challenges, but he was able to enter an off-site school at third grade. Though he was in a homeroom for autistic children, he also had classes with non-autistic students.

Royal Rangers helped Steven integrate so well into school. We always told the leaders to keep challenging him and not expect any less of Steven than of the others.

Further encouragement came as Steven advanced through high school. Teachers sometimes sent home notes asking us to talk to Steven because he was being the class clown. We would handle it, of course, but also laugh to ourselves. After all, this was the little boy who was not supposed to talk at all; now we had to tell him to be quiet in class.

Steven graduated in spring 2012 after making the honor roll every semester through high school.

In February, our dream came true. Our church, Parkview Assembly of God (Newark, Del.), dedicated a whole morning service to recognize Steven for earning the Royal Rangers Gold Medal of Achievement. We invited everyone we knew, and our church attendance dramatically increased that Sunday. My husband performed the ceremony.

That day, it felt as if everything God had promised us and everything we had prayed for was coming true. We felt like God was saying to us, You don’t have to worry about this. He’s going to be fine. I have great plans for him. Where we started is not going to be where we end.

Today, Steven is enrolled in a program through the University of Delaware, pursuing his next dream: a career working with animals.

As I look back, I realize that what Steven received through our church and Royal Rangers is what all boys and girls need, whether they are disabled or not. They need for Christians to be there to reach them where they are, to share the gospel with them, and to encourage them to use their story as a tool. Because everyone has a story.

And Steven’s is just beginning.

DEBRA EDWARDS lives in Newark, Del.

IAN RICHARDSON is an intern with the Pentecostal Evangel.


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