HOMEPAGE www.danieljvance.com

By Daniel J. Vance

Recently I met Jeff Stanley of Zion, Illinois, at a Joni and Friends family retreat held in northeast Indiana. Faith-based retreats like this one usually provide parents and children affected by disability with much needed encouragement, unconditional love, and a breather from rigorous daily routines.

Jeff and Leslie Stanley's son Jared, age 10, has autism.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website defines autism as a wide spectrum of disorders characterized by “varying degrees of impairment in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive, stereotyped patterns of behavior.” NIMH claims it affects about one in 500 Americans, but I believe it's more.

“At around 18 months, we started noticing changes in Jared,” said Stanley at the family retreat. “Until then he was almost exceptional, in that he could make animal sounds, do the entire alphabet and count to twenty. But at 18 months, he began losing those abilities. My wife was first to say something was wrong.”

Doctors said that Jared had autism, and later, that he also had epileptic seizures while asleep. It was too much for the Stanleys to handle. Jeff also had his own disability to manage, Tourette syndrome, which is a neurological disorder defined in part by multiple involuntary motor or vocal tics.

“The stress of dealing with our son began taking a heavy toll on our marriage,” said Stanley. “The latest statistic I've read is that 80 percent of marriages with a special needs child ends in divorce.”

Last year, after twelve years of marriage, the Stanleys separated for about six weeks. Not wanting to divorce, they sought out professional help with a marriage counselor.

“I didn't learn my wife was going through severe depression until after we started working with the counselor,” said Stanley. “I also learned for the first time that she had been getting only about four hours of sleep a night for the nine years of Jared's life. Learning that completely stunned me. Our counselor wondered how she had even survived those years. I was thinking the same thing.”

Stanley had advice for others in his situation, saying, “It may be difficult and hard, but the first thing you want to do is get help. By help I mean a marriage counselor or a pastor good at counseling. I encourage people to take this step before thinking about following through with a divorce.”

For more, see danieljvance.com or www.joniandfriends.org [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]