Read below for a guest post from Ron Sandison.
My development began normally until eighteen months. At that time I began to rapidly regress, losing the ability to communicate words I had previously learned and ceasing to have eye contact. Raising a son with autism began my mom’s career as an advocator. As I entered kindergarten, the school specialists labeled me as emotionally impaired. My mom refused this label and told the professionals, “My son’s disability is not emotional but neurological.” She diligently researched the top professionals in learning disabilities and paid to have me tested. Neuropsychologist Dr. Dotto confirmed that my disability was neurological.
My mom continued to advocate for me to receive tutoring and additional help in the classroom. When I was bullied, she advocated to the principal. Every night my mom and dad would assist me with my homework. Through my mom’s endurance, by eighth grade I was in mainstream education.
In the spring of 1994, my mom and I finally reached a roadblock beyond our control. In my junior year of high school, my life was on the right track. I had committed my life to serving Christ. I made the honor roll two straight semesters, was a star athlete in track, and memorized over 2,000 Scriptures.
That spring, our 3,200 meter relay team finished 12th in the State of Michigan. As we drove back from the state final, Nate, the anchor on our relay, commented to Coach Budd, “Next year we could be the fastest 3,200 relay but Ron will be past the age requirement!”
God spoke to my heart and said, “I will make a way for you.”
I said, “God will provide a way for me to compete.”
I was past the MHSAA age requirement by three months because I had repeated kindergarten. My mom and I believed that God would provide a way for me to run and we prayed daily for a miracle. In May of 1994, as my senior year quickly approached, my mom contacted the MHSAA and they stated, “Due to your son being past the age requirement we will not allow him to compete!” My parents contacted attorneys and learned that a lawsuit would cost over $40,000.
As the cross-country season drew near, the circumstances seemed hopeless. My mom told me, “There’s nothing we can do now but trust God and place your track season into His hands. He has seen all your hard work and determination.”
In June 1994, I returned from a five mile run and grabbed the Detroit Free Press. I saw on the front page an article about Craig Stanley, a fellow athlete past the age requirement. Our situations were remarkably similar. We both were born in May 1975, each of us repeated early elementary grades, we were both cross-country and track runners. Most importantly, Craig and I both had faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. My mom immediately contacted his family. Our families met and we joined forces in prayer.
After I rededicated my life to Christ, God placed on my heart a desire to be re-baptized to demonstrate my commitment to Christ. I was baptized at nine-months-old. The day I was baptized, I said my first word: “Mom.”
On Sunday June 10, 1994, I was baptized by Pastor Rob. As Pastor Rob lifted me from the water, he said, “God has given me a word: Joel 2:25 – ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten- the great locust and young locust, the other locust and the locust swarm- my great army that I sent among you.’ Your blessings will begin today.”‘
When I got home and checked the answering machine, I had an unexpected message from attorney Rick Landau stating, “I believe your case will set precedent for the American Disabilities Act and I want to represent you pro bono.”
On August 25, 1994, just six hours before my first cross-country meet, U.S. District Court Judge Feikens granted a temporary restraining order to allow Craig and me to participate in cross-country and track. Twenty days later, Judge Feikens instated a permanent injunction allowing us to compete for the rest of the season.
My mom’s advocacy helped me have a defining moment as our 3,200 relay team set the school record and ran the second fastest time out of 182 teams. During this season, God called me to be in the ministry. Michigan Christian College, now Rochester College, gave me an athletic scholarship for cross-country and track. I finished my freshman year making the Dean’s List and received an academic scholarship to Oral Roberts University. Six years later, I graduated with a master of divinity with highest honors.
My mom encourages parents of special needs children, “Advocate, advocate, advocate, and when your child is mature he or she will be an advocator.”
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is currently writing, The Christian Concise Guide to Autism. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.