Hannah Singer: Your autistic child can make your marriage stronger

November 28, 2014

Many couples develop a desire to adopt, but for Hannah Singer and her husband, Patrick, the call was clear from the beginning. The couple married in 2006, and in 2008, a few short years later, their desire for a baby was fulfilled. Their son, Elijah, was adopted at three months. It wasn’t long after that Elijah began to show signs of autism.

Elijah, now 5 years old, has been a bright light in the Singer’s lives. There are many resources for caring for a child with autism, but what about assisting a couple who lovingly serve a child with a disability? I’ve asked Hannah to share their story—specifically how the Lord has used their son and his diagnosis in her marriage.

Would you share your journey into adoption?

Patrick and I both had hearts for adoption from the beginning, originally planning to add to our biological children. The Lord knew best, and after two ectopic pregnancies and learning we were unable to grow our family the “typical” way, we pursued adoption! We began many avenues domestically, including foster care. The Lord surprised us in the midst of our pursuit with an out-of-the-blue phone call from a young woman wondering if we “still want a baby”. That led to a private adoption with help from a lawyer friend and a beautiful young woman, Elijah's birth mama. We were there for his birth, so he has always been with us. Elijah was three months old when his adoption was finalized, making him an official Singer! 

I understand Elijah was diagnosed with autism. Did you know he was diagnosed with autism at the time? If not, how did you discover it?

We didn't know about his autism. Looking back, especially at old videos, we see signs of autism in Elijah. We never noticed anything “different” until he was almost two years old. I think it was a combination of him bringing us so much joy and us being uneducated in the area of autism. Elijah was a super easy/calm baby. He could sleep anywhere, go anywhere, and nothing fazed him!

Somewhere along the way (around 8 months old?) he went from chill-out to jumping tornado, constantly moving and destroying things. It was like he couldn't be still, he couldn't rest. I know babies can be busy, chew on things and make messes, but this seemed different somehow. I just thought he was quirky and “normal”. He still wanted to be swaddled (and does to this day, ha!); the few words like apple, bath, mama, book, and go . . . went quiet.  

He would hardly ever say words and often seemed like he didn't even know I was in the room with him. Things became clearer during a vacation we took just after his second birthday. We went to Disneyland. It was an awesome trip in some ways, but mostly it was just difficult and exhausting. Elijah screamed and kicked on the airplane. He wouldn't eat or sleep (for most of the trip!); we had no idea what he needed. We thought maybe he was getting sick, or was afraid of the airplane, or the hotel or something. He was overwhelmed and wound super tightly. Patrick and I were delirious and clueless.  

After that trip I began to see things differently. I became more aware of Elijah's “quirks”. When he continued to seem aloof to us, we had his hearing checked. Perfect score. He wasn't speaking, which made for many frustrating times of the day and night. He stopped eating foods he used to like, he wasn't sleeping, he didn't seem to know what toys were for. He would just throw them around or walk on them all day. He jumped, climbed, ran, and chewed things relentlessly.  

I didn't feel worried about him, but I definitely felt like I had no idea what I was doing as a mom. I felt I was failing him. For months, including during another insane, overwhelming vacation, I knew something was not typical. I had no idea where to begin with all the questions I had. I read a blog by a mother whose son was recently diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, and it really reminded me of what Elijah was like. So, I researched that a bit and made notes for the pediatrician. At an appointment late in October 2011, Elijah was observed for over an hour. We talked with the doctor, asking questions and answering them. She told us that she would make appointments for us to see more doctors as soon as possible. She believed that Elijah was autistic.

I was stunned because I was under the impression that autism meant no happiness, no affection and aggression.  Elijah was a jolly, affectionate and tender boy.

How has the diagnosis affected your marriage?

I believe the autism diagnosis has absolutely affected our marriage and in so many ways. From day one, it brought us closer together. At first, because we both felt like total loser parents, here we were, trying to pound a square peg into a circle hole. We were trying discipline, routines—everything—as if Elijah was typical. When it wasn't working at all, we thought we were failures. It never crossed our minds that maybe he needed a completely different approach. We felt shame for not knowing about autism. We felt shame for him being close to three years old before we figured it out. That connected us, and in turn drove us to Jesus together for wisdom, comfort and strength.  Learning about Elijah's autism was also relieving. It meant we weren't crazy and imagining his quirks. It meant we were not failures, just uneducated.

What steps have you taken to preserve your marriage while loving, serving, and caring for your son? 

With Patrick's irregular work schedule, I often attend meetings and appointments for Elijah alone. It can sometimes feel like single parenting when I get all the info alone and deal with things on a daily basis. I’ve learned that it's important to make time to share with Patrick, no matter how tired I am, updating him on everything so he's included and can better make decisions.  

Getting time together to just be is also important. We rarely have money to afford a sitter or go out, but we try to connect at home any chance we get. Honestly, this is a current struggle for us, overcoming exhaustion, praying together, having meaningful conversation and togetherness is something we're getting better at.

Are there any lessons you've learned about marriage and caring for children with special needs?

The truth is, I believe marriage is work, typical family or not. It's beautiful and good . . . and sanctifying. So far, we've learned that keeping short accounts of hurts or frustrations with each other, confessing, and forgiving immediately helps so much. There are pressures as a special needs family that cause stress, extreme anxiety, fear and sometimes anger. It's crucial that we cling to Christ together and that we're on the same team every day. Most days, we feel completely inadequate for the life the Lord has given us.  

Here are some things we know matter and are working on daily:

Our child is not the center of our world. Sometimes that's a fight, simply because he is a total joy and blessing to us, and most of our time is spent with him or working for what's best him. But, if my husband and I are not taking time to nurture ourselves as a couple, we can hardly care well for our son's needs. It's important for us to be one and to be in tune with each other.

What have been some of the joys, specifically in your marriage, since becoming parents?

I think a huge joy for me has been the way my husband accepts me. Earlier in our marriage, after two ectopic pregnancies, we learned we'd never have biological children. During that time, I first saw that my husband was 100 percent with me. Patrick grieves with me. He celebrates with me. He encourages me. He laughs with me. He stays.

Sharing the joy of being parents together is a joy in our marriage! We've changed a little since becoming parents and changed a little more since realizing how exceptional Elijah is. It's been a joy to see my husband grow into his fatherhood role. And Lord willing, we'll be adopting again!

What is your hope for your son and his future?

Wow. I hope everything for him. Our main prayer is that he would understand the gospel and know freedom in Jesus. We hope he will be understood and respected for who he is. We he hope he will continue to discover and sharpen his gifts, and share them through his work and friendships. 

*The number of children diagnosed with autism each year is staggering and the cause is undetermined, but this we do know, each child is made in the image of God. May the Lord give us wisdom to serve parents in our congregations as they lovingly care for their child diagnosed with autism.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24