By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — For Leah and Christian Eisenbeis raising two children with Autism is not only a challenge but it’s been a blessing, too.
Flora, 7, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when she was only 3. For Henry, 4, the diagnosis wasn’t clear in the beginning because of some medical issues.
“It took a long time to put a name to it. Different doctors would always say, ‘Well, let’s wait and see and maybe when he gets to feeling better, he’ll catch up.’ After it (medical issues) had been resolved for over a year, there was nothing else to rule out,” Leah said.
For the Eisenbeis couple, dealing with two children with autism has been something they’ve embraced.
Christian, who is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, and Leah decided about a year ago to form The Thorn Bush Autism support group. Meeting the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Catering Creations, 3750 W. Main St., Suite 3C, The Thorn Bush Project is an open discussion time and Bible study for parents with autistic children.
Christian said he wanted to start the group as a way for his church to become connected to the community.
“There is no set agenda, but typically we talk about schools and how our children are doing in school. Our church is small, for now. It doesn’t have its own building. We wanted to be involved in the community, but we don’t have a lot of people or our own site. We thought, what can we offer the community that would be worth their while and something that would draw on our experience? We really had to look no farther than our daughter and our son,” Christian said.
About 10 families come to The Thorn Bush Project meetings, Christian said.
“Most families who come have multiple children on the spectrum, and if they are not on the spectrum, they will have development issues. It’s almost all boys,” Christian said.
Most meetings allow parents to discuss the progress of their children, as well as any difficulties at school and with other family members.
“I think a sad thing has been the lack of support some people feel from their own families. I think that’s something that motivates us to offer this service. This is a welcoming family. In the absence of that support so many people seem to lack, you can find it here,” Christian said.
Christian said a lot of parents of autistic children want to apologize for their children’s behavior or they are worried what other people will think.
“We’ve been to groups where people talk about, “Should I hand someone a card that explains that my child has autism?’ ‘Should I have a scarlet ‘A’ dogged on the front of their shirt so that people will understand why they are acting the way they are?’ ‘Should I put my kid on a leash and, again, explain, sorry the kid has autism?’” Christian said.
The dream of The Thorn Bush Project is to be allowed a larger space that would include child care during the meetings. As of now, the group is strictly for parents.
As parents of autistic children, the Eisenbeis feel blessed that their church family has been so loving and supportive.
“They know that Flora is going to want to talk about some species of birds and flowers that they’ve never heard of until she shows them a picture. They know that Henry is going to try and tackle hug them. I think not every place would be accepting as they are,” Christian said.
The Thorn Bush Project name, Leah said, comes from a children’s book, “Mouse Soup,” by Arnold Lobel. The plot of the short story is that a mouse wakes up one day and a thorn bush is growing out of her favorite chair.
“The theme of the story is that because she has the right attitude about this thorn bush, it becomes what it really is, which is a rose bush. That’s how we feel about it. She doesn’t know why there’s this thorn bush growing out of her chair. She never knows the reason why, but she feels like, ‘Well, it’s here. I might as well take care of it.’ Through that attitude it becomes this beautiful thing.
“That’s how we feel. This thing has been put in your life. It can be very difficult and it can be very painful, but if you look only for the thorns, you’ll only see the thorns. If you look for the roses, they are there, too. It doesn’t mean that your life is going to be this big tragedy,” Leah said. Like any parents, Leah said, they are just trying to help their children become who they are supposed to be.
“When your child gets diagnosed, you don’t have to go, ‘Well, that’s it. It’s over. I thought my life was going down this one path and now it’s all ruined. You have the same goal. You’re goal is for your child to be everything God meant him to be. It’s just the way you get there is going to be really different,” Leah said.
“We try to keep in mind that nobody knows the future for their child. That’s what scares us: what is the future going to hold for our child? But even if your child is ‘normal,’ there is no guarantee that they are going to go on and ride off into the sunset. There are still a million things out there that can go wrong. It’s not so different,” Leah said.
For more information on Thorn Bush Project, call 642-6769.
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