Read below for a guest post from Ron Sandison.
On my bedroom wall I have an art scratch board of a futurist city with bluish green waterfalls and a red moon. The artist created this beautiful work by spraying five layers of different colors of spray-paint and then carving out of the darkness; a masterful panoply painting. In redemption, like the scratch board art, Christ cuts through our layers of failures, disabilities, and disappointments (the blackness) and transforms them for His glory.
In a strip mall, two miles from Northport High School, is an Italian restaurant, Joey’s of Mulberry Street. On the wall across from the cash register hangs a framed picture that masterfully portrays God’s transforming power. In the picture is Mickey Brannigan, a brown hair, freckles pepper face athlete with emerald green eyes who is running a race. The evening before every race, Mikey faithfully orders the grilled eggplant from Joey’s.
Mikey’s routines, including his running 60 miles a week, have empowered him to be one of the fastest high school track and cross-country runners in the United States. Brannigan, a senior, can run the mile in 4:07 and the 5K in 15:06. Mikey is so talented that over 200 colleges have recruited him, including most top Division 1 schools. However, the future did not always appear so bright for Mikey.
“Don’t curse your circumstances; it may be what causes your destiny.”
Mikey’s mother, Edie, said, “My son’s developmental milestones were well behind those of his older brother. Mikey was hyperactive, impulsive, and obsessive as a youngster. When he was 3, I slept in front of his door because he was an escape artist.”
When Edie gave birth to her first child, Patrick, she was in labor for 24 hours. With her youngest son, Thomas, 16 hours. Mikey was a 2-hour speed delivery. “He came running out of my womb and has never stop running,” Edie jokes. Unlike his two brothers, Mikey never crawled, but began running at 10 months.
Edie’s maternal instinct sensed something was wrong at 12 months. “I’d walk into a room and all the chairs would be lined up across the floor. Mikey constantly required trips to the ER for stiches from his running into walls and furniture. If Mikey wanted something, he’d point and hold his Thomas the Tank Engine pressed to his nose. He was nonverbal until age four.”
Mickey was diagnosed with autism at 18 months. The specialist warned his parents that he may never function in the world and will probably have to live in a group home. Mikey required 6 months intensive ABA therapy to learn how to walk beside his mother instead of running in front of her. Edie describes the family’s experience,
“We lived in ‘autism world.’ We couldn’t get out and no one else could get in, it was very isolating.”
The breakthrough that changed everything; Mikey’s family was at the playground and he was climbing on the jungle gym. As his mom watched from a distance, Mikey was hanging on the playground structure, looked straight at his mom, and said, “Help me!” Edie shares, “Stunned I fell to the ground and began to cry because I knew that if he could communicate his needs, unprompted and situationally appropriate, he could do anything.”
Mikey’s dad Kevin decided to have him play sports to develop social skills. During a seminar, Kevin overheard a coach talking about an athletic program for handicapped runners called Rolling Thunder. Kevin asked, “Do you have any children with autism?” Coach Steve Cuomo replied, “My son has autism!” Edie describes Mikey’s experience with Rolling Thunder, “It was like the hand of God came down from the sky and shifted our lives completely. It changed everything. It gave us hope.”
“Fitness is a gateway to important life skills like reading, writing and communication.” – Pat Wyman, M.A.
The first time coach Steve saw 8 ½ year old Mikey run, he was ecstatic and exclaimed, “You didn’t tell me Mikey could really run!” Kevin replied, “Well, we never thought it was a good thing.” Over the next few years, Mikey competed in dozens of races. When Mikey was 12, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon 10K race in 38 minutes and finished 22nd out of 5,000 runners. Slowly a change began to occur. Kevin and Edie shared, “We noticed that Mikey’s thinking was clearer, his academics were improving, his social interactions growing. It was a miracle.”
Currently, Mikey maintains a 3.3 GPA. Brannigan states, “My goal is to run for a Division 1 college and compete in the Olympics.” Coach Steve says, “He’s blazing trails we never thought possible for people with autism.” ABC Nightly News reporter Kate Snow asked, “Does autism make you a better runner?” Mikey responded, “A better person!”
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is currently writing, A 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.