How God Has Used My Autism Journey
By: Mike Tumlin
Twelve years ago if anyone would have told me all the things I’m doing today, frankly I would’ve told them that they were crazy. I was at the end of my rope. My children had been displaying many undesirable and socially unacceptable behaviors and I was completely ignorant about autism. I was in complete denial and being raised on the end of a hickory stick I thought that what my kids needed was discipline.
About this time I left the construction industry and was hired by Norfolk Southern Railroad as a conductor. At the time I thought this was the best job a blue collar, uneducated person like myself could get. The problem was that when you work on the railroad as a conductor you work the “Extra Board”. This meant I had random shifts, worked 70 to 80 hours a week and was guaranteed only 8 hours of rest after each twelve hour or less shift.
During this time I blamed the behavior of my children on my poor wife! I thought she was not disciplining the kids enough. Meanwhile most of the time I was only home for 8 hours and then off to Atlanta for three days at a time. I know now had I stayed at the Railroad I would have surely lost my wife and my children.
With things so far out of control in my life, I turned to God and started to follow the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. I began to pray and God began to answer my prayers and I came out of denial. I began scanning the internet reading and desperately searching for what was wrong with my children. Christ led me to an article about Einstein that mentioned that he may have had Asperger’s. I then did a search and found a rating scale and it was like it was describing my son to a tee.
When we finally got the diagnosis I felt that things would finally get better and I would be able to turn the diagnosis over to the school and all would be well. Well it didn’t quite work out like that. The teachers and the school here in Alabama didn’t know anymore about autism than I did.
Since I was a new employee at the Railroad and destined to be on the Extra Board for a minimum of 15 more years my wife and I quickly realized that one of us would have to come home and quit letting the day care raise our children. Her job was better for our family so I quit. This cut our income in half and was a big blow to me being a male but it was the best decision for our family.
Though we may not have a lot of money we feel very blessed by God’s goodness. The cars that were new when our kids were first diagnosed are still on the road, both with over 300,000 miles each. This may not sound like a blessing to many but this has been a blessing to us. With each breakdown and repair Christ has guided my hands as I make each repair and our cars are still moving.
During this time I felt that God wanted me to start a support group. To be perfectly honest I fought this notion and asked God to give this job to someone else. Maybe someone with only one child with autism. But God’s answer kept coming back the same, “I’m going to take care of your children and you are going to help me take care of many more.”
In my dreams I would always see a sign with red letters and a T on top of it. This just didn’t make sense to me as I live in the sticks and we didn’t have so much as a red light much less a flashing sign. Around this time I was taking my kids to school each day and watching as they built a new church on the way. Then one day I saw it! It was never a “T” that God was showing me in my dream but instead it was a big red cross right on top of the new sign they were building in front of the church.
I went home and asked God to guide me to whatever he wanted me to do. I never built a website but with God’s help I built what eventually became the Alabama Autism Support Network. Next, I began working on a way to find people to join what I thought was going to be a small support group at the new church. I went in and talked to the pastor and to my surprise he was completely supportive of my idea. By this time it had been four years since my children’s diagnosis and we had never met another parent with a child on the spectrum, the website was our only way to connect with others.
Well it turns out that this was just the beginning of what God had in store for me. I developed an “OCD” if you will of learning about autism and sharing that knowledge with others. I began sharing what I learned on the Alabama Autism Network and folks from all parts of the state began to find us. Just like autism does not know county lines I could not turn folks away saying that this was just my school, or county, or state so now our network is open to the world. It turns out that there are so many folks like my wife and I that want to talk with other parents and learn about autism. We are now the largest support network in the Southeast growing at about two people a day. I thank God for the network because he knew we all needed it. I now also travel across Alabama to help get more face to face support groups started in our state.
My Lord Jesus Christ continues to meet all of my family’s needs. Many times at the last minute the phone will ring and the solution to whatever the problem may be is given, whether it be financial, words to say, or how to raise my children. I stand on God’s promise to us all that he will never put more on us than we can take. I have faith that he will continue to take care of my family and continue to take care of my children by helping them rehabilitate.
Though many of these victories would seem trivial to many folks they mean the world to my family. So now when I’m asked, and I’m asked often, what has been the best therapy for my children that are doing so well. I immediately without hesitation can say “Jesus Christ”! I pray that if you are reading this that you will give God a chance! It will be the best thing that you have ever done- I promise. For your guarantee that eternity will be so much better than this world please read John 14.
Mike Tumlin is the founder of Alabama Autism & Asperger’s Support and Info Network www.AlabamaAutism.org.