Written by: André van Tonder
Article source: JOY! Magazine
It was early on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, when there was a knock on my bedroom door and joyful-noisy-falsetto voice was singing “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made”. “Do you know why it is going to be a good day, daddy? Because Lord Jesus made this day. Don’t you say Amen?” “Joshua, it is still dark, what time is it?”
Joshua was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD as a little boy. Today, now in his twenties, he currently works as an artist; painting the most colourful acrylic paintings. “Daddy, you still didn’t say ‘and everybody says Amen.’” I mumbled something that sounded like amen.
Joshua is a morning person. He puts the steaming coffee next to my bed and, without looking, I know there will be two pieces of rusks neatly displayed on the small plate that he always serves with coffee. I was still mulling over the idea to forget about the fact that I am tired and still want that little bit more sleep (it is after all Saturday) and just drink the coffee. If I delay the drinking of this coffee, he will test the coffee after a while and just ask: “Daddy, shall I warm it up for you for twenty or thirty seconds?”
“I would go to my room, close the door, and pour out my heart at the feet of the One who knows the best, all the while begging for guidance.”
Mieke, Melissa, Andre with little Elsa on his lap, Emily (granddaughter), Joshua
Always numbers and colours
Joshua was sitting next to me on the bed. It always amazes me how he can drink such hot coffee. He lay down on the bed, making himself more comfortable, stretching out his legs, and the next moment he was fast asleep. I was tempted to wake him up to warm up the coffee for twenty seconds. But then I took my laptop and started typing… and I got lost in my own thoughts, thinking back to the day of Joshua’s birth. What a beautiful little baby boy. Perfectly made 10 fingers; ten toes. So beautiful. Psalm 139 sprang to my mind: “You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.”
Back to the story about Joshua:
Without going in too much detail, there was a certain behaviour in Joshua that was new and unknown to us. His mother, Tania, had him tested at a very young age; Joshua was diagnosed with Autism. Initially; I experienced denial and fear. I was so worried about the way forward. What if autism was going to prevent me from being a good dad? I was worried about whether I was going to be able to connect with him on a father/son level without me or him ever getting overwhelmed. Nothing had prepared Tania and I for this. Each member of the family has a story and testimony, but today I am sharing my story about my journey with our son, brother of Melissa and Mieke. My research helped very little, and at the end (like always) I would go to my room, close the door, and pour out my heart at the feet of the One who knows the best, all the while begging for guidance.
Tania, Andre, Joshua and Mieke
Life has changed drastically since the beginning
Being a father to an autistic son has been challenging. Sometimes I panicked, but then music has always played a spiritual and positive role in my life, especially the old hymns that never lost their power. I will go for a ride on my bicycle singing, “Leave it there, take your burdens to the Lord and leave it there” and many other Gospel songs. Joshua, sitting at the back of the bicycle on his bike seat; clapping hands and revelling in his own world… He looked so cute; so normal with his little helmet on his head, we would ride endlessly for kilometres. Joshua always looking at the wheels, he was totally obsessed with wheels that were turning.
A life-changing dream
One particular night, while on my knees at my bedside praying to Abba Father, I fell asleep and dreamt. I was dreaming about a dozen little boys, looking exactly the same as Joshua. Some of them were very clever, some of them were very energetic and sporty. But I panicked as I couldn’t find my special boy making small circles with his hands, I cried out loud to our Lord Jesus, ‘help me to find my little boy’. I pushed all these perfect boys aside and there he was, on his own. I woke up crying; crying healing tears. God washed my eyes with tears so I could see, and I thank God for that moment of acceptance.
“Joshua is funny, charming, sweet, and blessed with extraordinary intellect that he’ll learn to harness.”
God is in control
Raising Joshua really became a family effort, and we were – and still are – so proud of each new venture that Joshua bravely embraces, despite his mental disability. Somebody once asked me if I want him to be healed and I said why? He is not sick! My only job as a dad is to provide the building blocks and teach him the lessons of life, and my God will do the rest. He will gently lead this child (young man today) down a path to be a great human being. Joshua showers us with love and he is his own person in Christ the Lord.
Small miracles every day
After 28 years of being on this journey with our son, his mother and I still have moments when we cry out to God for guidance, and He has never failed us yet. There were a lot of heartaches raising Joshua, but we always stand amazed at his pure heart and the joy that he brings to everybody he is getting in touch with.
“The grief of letting go of ‘my dreams for him’ have long since been replaced with an acute awareness of the small miracles that happen every day. Letting go of those dreams does not mean losing hope” – Johan van Deventer’s words reflecting on this own son’s journey with autism (shared in JOY! Magazine, Oct 2021)
“Acceptance did not come overnight, but I learnt to cherish the time I spend with my son.”
Emily astonished with Joshua’s numbers
Gifted with art
Joshua has grown up to be such a loving, friendly, “not-too-difficult young man”. He is very verbal – sometimes when it is difficult to express his feelings in words, he communicates through his paintings. He is so proud of the paintings he creates. Acceptance did not come overnight, but I learnt to cherish the time I spend with my son in spite of the heartbreak we faced in the past while trying to help him.
Finding grace in happy moments
I once realised that grace is found in moments my son fully enjoys, and I get to witness it a lot. I remember with fondness the series of road trips undertaken with Joshua – to bond with our boy and teach him about Jesus’ love. I frequently ask for guidance from God, for the Holy Spirit to navigate Joshua in a world that isn’t wired like he is.
A happy young man
Frequently, Joshua tells us that he is a happy man. I once asked him, ‘Why are you happy?’ and he said to me, “because Jesus loves me and He also loves numbers like me daddy.”
“Are you happy now?
“I’d say so,” he said, “My kind of happy.”
“But you don’t have many friends?”
“That’s the problem,” Joshua said. His tone was matter-of-fact, not accusatory or defensive, “but I am still happy with the pictures in my mind.”
“Are you happy in your picture?”
“Most of the time, yes,” he said, “Are you always happy in yours?”
“No, my son. Not always.”
“Same with me.”
“Joshua, why are you always asking the same questions?”
“Because you don’t give me the right answers.”
“Now what should the answer be?”
“I don’t know daddy, that is why I am asking you!”
Joshua with his eldest sister, Melissa
Joshua, a very nice young man with all the smart questions. That’s our son. He is not a boy anymore, but in a way he will always be my and Tania’s boy. He’s funny, charming, sweet, and blessed with extraordinary intellect that he’ll learn to harness—even if he does so in ways that defy my dreams for him. I still need to learn to deal with those expectations.
Not despite autism, because of it
We love our son—not despite his autism, but because of it. What makes Joshua and other people with Asperger’s / Autism syndrome so unique and also makes them a model for the rest of us? Their hyper-literal mindsets make honesty as much a part of their nature as breathing. Joshua may be one of the most caring people I know. My constant prayer is: “God help me to be worthy of Joshua and that I should be more like him: Create in me a clean heart oh God and a pure mind.”
The sweetest heart
Back to the present moment: Joshua is stirring and is waking up. He looked over my shoulder to the cold cup of coffee next to my bed. “You didn’t drink your coffee Daddy, shall I warm it up for you; twenty or thirty seconds?” “Thanks Joshua, you can warm it up for me in the microwave for 50 seconds.” I closed my laptop and smiled…
Date published: 22/06/2022
Feature image: Image for illustrative purposes only. Artwork adapted from
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