Candace Nassar

Well, welcome, everyone. We’re continuing our conversation this month about spiritual growth and how to cultivate our relationship with God. The Bible says we’re to mature in our faith. But how does that work? Is it all up to us or does God play a role? Maybe you’ve tried to nurture your faith, but you just don’t feel like God hears your prayers. Or maybe you’re in a period of waiting for him to move, but he’s been silent. Or maybe you’re even angry with God because your life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted it to. And you think, why would God allow hard things in my life if he’s a loving God? Today, I have Dawn Jackson on our show to discuss how God used an autism diagnosis for one of her sons to teach her to truly trust him. Dawn is a pastor’s wife here in Austin. And while you may think that means she has arrived spiritually, she explains that through this trial, God revealed himself to her in unexpected ways. So welcome, Dawn. It’s great to have you here.

Dawn Jackson

Hi, Candace. It’s good to see you. I’m so excited to do this.

Candace Nassar

Yeah, I’m so excited to have you Dawn. Dawn is one of our MomQ leaders and has been a dedicated community member for two years. She’s a self-described introvert, but when you hear her talk, you would not know it. She has so much enthusiasm and passion. She’s a precious woman of God, and she just has a really powerful story that I wanted her to share with you guys. So Dawn, help us get to know you a little bit better. How long have you been married? Tell us about your kids, where you grew up, that thing.

Dawn Jackson

Okay. So good morning. It’s good to see you, Candace. So I was born and raised in Sugarland, Texas, which sounds like a cute little small town, but in fact, it’s a suburb of Houston. And my parents actually still live in the home that they brought me home from the hospital. So they’ve lived there for 40 years, and it’s over 100 years old, and they’ve remodeled it. And so it’s really sweet. And so they’re still there. And so when I left high school, I went to college at Texas State in San Marcos. And that’s where I fell in love with the Hill Country. I know you were probably thinking I was going to say my husband, but I fell in love with the hill country. I did. I decided to stay in Austin after graduation. A couple of years later, that’s when I met Scott here in Austin. We’ve been married for 13 years. Like you said, he’s a pastor. He’s the pastor of Marshall Ford Fellowship. It’s a small family church just right here in Austin. And we have three boys. Barrett is 11, and he is about to go into middle school, which feels very overwhelming.

Our middle is Porter, and he is eight. And then our youngest is Weston, he’s five, and he’ll start kinder in August. So I’ll have one going into middle school and one going into kindergarten. So it’s going to be a big year next year for us.

Candace Nassar

Yes. Yes. Lots of changes. Wow. I love that you’re from Sugarland. I think that is the most precious little town square there. I love Sugarland. It’s not far from where my mother-in-law lives.

Dawn Jackson

Yes. And that’s a good place. When I was growing up, there was the Sugar Factory, which is where the name came from. And so you would go outside, and it would smell like brown sugar and sugar cooking in the factory. On our field trips, we’re always in the Sugar Factory. Anyway, it’s now shut down.

Candace Nassar

Oh, that would… Yeah. But that would not be good, smelling sugar all day. It was all the time. Yes. It would be hard to focus. Oh, my goodness. All right. Well, you know you have a special place in my heart because I also have a child that was diagnosed with autism. But I’ve been where you are. And so, although it took many years for us to get the diagnosis, we just experienced the fallout from that for years. And there’s nothing harder than watching our children suffer and not have any control over it. So you and I bonded instantly when we found out we both had this in common. And when God gives us really hard things like that, we have two choices. And this is what we’re going to talk about. We can turn away from Him and become bitter, or try to do it on our own and be exhausted and stressed out all the time, or we can accept the circumstances He has given us and learn to be content in them. I know your story is going to be a big encouragement to our moms today. Let’s start with a little bit of background.

I know your third is Weston. You already told us that, and he is the one that has this special neurodivergent brain. Why don’t you tell us what sparked you to first get him evaluated?

Dawn Jackson

Weston was always behind the typical curve, all the milestones. As parents, you go to the pediatrician and they’re like, “This is when they should walk and sit up and crawl and all the things.” You have a benchmark for each of these things, and Weston was behind in all of them. And eventually, he did catch up, but just months behind his peers, with the exception of talking. So by two, he only knew a handful of words. And even when I say that, he knew Bull or Mom, but he used it very sporadically. So it wasn’t even a part of his natural everyday speech. So we definitely knew that we were looking at a speech delay. Unfortunately, when we realized this, it was August of 2020, and so we were deep into COVID. And when we started calling the speech therapist, they were like, “Of course we can see him, but it’s going to be on Zoom.” So everything was Zoom, and he’s two, and that was just completely a disaster. We would sit him down and try to put the iPad in front, try to get him to focus, and he just would run the opposite direction.

He’d cry. He wanted nothing to do with it.

Candace Nassar

What a nightmare!

Dawn Jackson

It was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. There. And then there was just nobody who was really seeing new patients during COVID. So that was just a really unfortunate timing, I guess. And then that’s when I started really researching and deciding, what else are we looking at? There’s something else going on there. And so we went to check  his two and a half year well-check, and I talked to his pediatrician. I said, I’m thinking maybe we’re looking at autism, and he didn’t feel like that’s what it was. And as you know, autism looks different. They call it a spectrum for a reason. Every kid is uniquely different. It’s certainly not a box that they, okay, here’s what it is. Check, check, check. It just looks so different. And so he’s only two. So we’re bringing this brand new two and a half year old and trying to get him a diagnosis. And the pediatrician- 

Candace Nassar

That was so interesting, though, Dawn, if I can stop you for a second.

Candace Nassar

As moms, we tend to know we have an instinct that there’s something going on. And it’s really hard. Because for me, it was a long time. It was 25 years, or I guess my son is 25. So however many years ago, he was 2, 23. And he didn’t meet the criteria at the time for your typical autistic kid. And so we just kept getting pushed down the road. But I love that, that you knew, and God was giving you that wisdom. And so you pursued it and you pushed it. So then what happened? Yeah.

Dawn Jackson

So then I basically just asked a pediatrician. I said, Well, I’m going to need a neurologist’s recommendation anyway. I’m just going to move forward with this. And that’s when he said, “Okay.” And so he gave me his recommendation for who to go to.

Candace Nassar

Yeah. Okay. You go to the neurologist. Now, let me ask you, did he have… Because I know my son had the speech delays. He didn’t really have the physical delays, but he definitely had sensory issues? Did Weston have the sensory?

Dawn Jackson

It’s so funny. So random sensory issues. He, to this day, won’t eat ice cream, so he doesn’t like anything cold. It’s an odd sensory thing, but nothing that really affects his life long term. That’s not really a… But noises, I can vacuum, I can make smoothies, and he never really holds his ears or does anything like that. So a lot of those typical things he doesn’t really do. But he does. He did love wheels to an extreme level. If he saw a wheel, he’d flip over a car and he’d spin it. He’d see a baby stroller, he’d flip that over and he’d spin those wheels. So he loved to spin wheels. So that was like a little trigger that I was like, “Okay, that feels a little extra.”

Candace Nassar

Yeah. Well, that’s the thing, too, right? So, my son had the sound issues, and we actually took him. He got diagnosed with sensory integration disorder. But at this time, we’re still not putting it together because it’s just too many years ago. We started seeing an occupational therapist to help him. He couldn’t handle noises. He couldn’t handle sounds, loud places. He would just lose it. Matter of fact, one time we took him to Disney World, and we just had to sit outside all the shows with him because we couldn’t go in. But anyway, so with the sensory, we got some help there. But I love you talking about the fixation. They had those little fixations, too, that I will tell you now down the road, my son is an auditor, a CPA auditor, and that has come in so handy. So there is hope.

Dawn Jackson

I do think about that. He’ll line up numbers, and we’re still behind on some of our… What is it? Is it fine motor or gross motor? Where you hold a pencil. So he still can’t do the pencil grip, but we have magnets on our fridge, and he’ll pull them down and he’ll write me a sentence. I need a snack or something. He’ll write a whole sentence, and so he can spell completely, he can read. Sometimes he can’t write it down, or he can’t verbalize it all the time. He’s much better than that, and we’ll go more into that on how he’s reading.

Candace Nassar

Anyway, it’s just neat to see there are signs, and moms know, and God… If you’re praying, if you’re out there and you have a child that has some of these things and you’re thinking, “Oh, no, they might have autism!” They may or may not. It’s not a sure thing, but there are certain signs. And then I also encourage you, if you’re not getting the cooperation from the medical practitioners, to just keep pushing it and keep praying because God will make a way. So okay, keep going.

Dawn Jackson

Just a little side note to that, because I did have a friend who didn’t want to go and get a diagnosis for their kid, and they were pretty sure because they didn’t want that label or that stigma. I will say you have to push past that because ultimately the goal as a parent is for you to give your child the best services and the best support that they can have so that they can live their best life. And so I think that if you just have that nervousness, I think you just have to keep going, and push past that.

Candace Nassar

Yes. Amen. When I taught high school, one time I had a child that his parents never got him diagnosed. And it was such a shame because he could have gotten all those services early on, and he really was behind, very, very behind. So great, great point. Okay, so you go to the neurologist and you get the diagnosis?

Dawn Jackson

Yes. Well, no. So it was a longer process. So Scott and I weren’t on the same page with this. And that’s part of it, is that we had to listen to that feeling that I think God was giving me.  Scott was feeling like it was more we’re two. It’s probably a speech delay. And there was just something there that I was like, there is something else. And I think that was probably the hardest part of the entire journey was that any time I mentioned it to somebody, their first response was, he’s fine. He will be fine. He’ll get there, which I think seems really good, and it’s a very easy answer. But in reality, I knew that wasn’t the case. There was something else. And so I did feel very alone in that process. We did a vision and  hearing test. There were two ADAS tests, which are tests that evaluate for autism. We went through the public school system and did just a test through them. And so it was this long process. And really, it took from August 2020 to August 2021. So a full year from the time we really suspected an issue to get the diagnosis, which was autism.

Candace Nassar

So how did you work through you and Scott, being on different pages?

Dawn Jackson

That was a lot of God. That wasn’t me. That was more of just… I felt like at that time… And he wasn’t mad or angry about it. It was more of just like, he’s like, I don’t really think so. And then I just said, I feel like I’m going to keep going with this. And then he was just like, Okay, that’s fine. So it wasn’t that he was “anti” it. It was just that he wasn’t proactively seeking it with me. And so then as the months went on, Scott definitely got on board. Lots of praying. And really, it’s such a gift because Scott does ultimately seek God’s will for himself and for his family. I think he’s in the middle of that as well, praying beside me.

Candace Nassar

Great. Okay, good. Yeah, lots of prayer. I like that. So once the diagnosis was final, what was your reaction?

Dawn Jackson

I felt pretty broken. I think that  was probably my first feeling. And ultimately, I’ll say this, I love Weston, and that did not change at all. That stayed exactly the same. It had nothing to do with that. I was broken for… I think the word that really summed it up for me was grief. It was just this deep sadness that I couldn’t quite pinpoint for a really long time. And it was a sadness because I would see his peers, and they would be at playdates, or they would be at sports And birthday parties were the worst, and I don’t know why. I think it’s something about just having all the kids that are the same age that the gap just was glaring. There’s your typical peers, here’s where Weston’s at, and just the gap felt big. Whereas when we’re in our bubble, it didn’t feel as big. But when we’re immersed with his peers, it felt bigger. And I feel like that’s where I realized it wasn’t jealousy that I was feeling for these other kids. It was simply just grief -grief because I didn’t know where we would end up being. What was Weston’s life going to look like?

Dawn Jackson

I think I just would get into these moments of just deep grief.

Candace Nassar

Yeah, 100% hear you. For me, we never knew exactly what it was. It was diagnosed ADHD or different things. But those are the times when you’re watching your child, in a sense, suffer because they don’t necessarily know, but they know. And it’s enough to… And like you had said to me earlier, just grieving the loss of, “Okay, we’re not going to be a normal family, per se.”

Dawn Jackson

Yeah. And I think that’s where  I got to a point where I was really mad, really mad at God. And I thought, I went through this, why me? Why us? Why our family? And it really stemmed from my childhood, which I’ve talked to you about before. But  my dad has MS, multiple sclerosis. So when I was born, he was starting to have trouble walking, and then he had a cane and then crutches. And by the time I was seven, he was in a wheelchair. And that just completely made our family different. He would fall often. And when that would happen, people would just come to help, which I totally understood. But it just put this spotlight on our family that we were different, that there was an issue, and that it would bring lots of attention, lots of staring. And I thought, “Here I am again with the family that doesn’t look typical.” And so it brought up a lot of anger with God, feeling like this was my childhood. And now here I am with my three babies and my new family, and we’re back at it. We’re back to a family that’s going to have a disability.

Candace Nassar

Yeah. It is. It’s heartbreaking when you have a vision for your life, and God says, “That’s not my vision for you.” And I appreciate so much that you said you were angry with Him, because there are often times where we go through suffering, and it just doesn’t seem fair. And what’s so great about God, though, is that he invites us to work through those things with him. And so share your process. How did you work through that?

Dawn Jackson

So there was a verse that I leaned into, and it was James 1:2-4. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And I think our natural response is, why me? And the fear, and I have to constantly stop myself and give it back to God. Constantly remind myself that this life is not about me, and that me being uncomfortable is okay with God. And I think that was a hard place to get. I felt like, well, of course God wants me to be comfortable. I’m doing the right things. And I think ultimately it’s okay that we’re not. This life isn’t for comfort. And it’s for the Kingdom. It’s to share Jesus, be His hands and His feet. And I think that’s ultimately where I had to get to say, “Yes, this is where we’re at. This is what our family has been given, and how can we glorify God with our circumstances?” And so I was actually doing a Bible study.

Candace Nassar

I was just going to say, and that’s where he wants us, that he wants us to be… He is the God, or we are the clay. And he’s molding and shaping us through these circumstances to learn to be more dependent on him, to realize what the purpose of life is and why he has us here. And it’s not fun, but when we lean in, It’s super sweet. So, yeah, tell us about the Bible study.

Dawn Jackson

Yes. I’m doing a Bible study. It was very timely. It’s over the Book of Ruth, and it’s by Kelly Mentor. And she said, How often do I want my circumstances to change when really God wants to change me? God sees your tears, cries them, feels them, wipes them, but doesn’t let them stop you from moving forward to Christ. It’s possible to cry and walk. And I just loved that picture of weeping forward. I felt like, and really, as I was thinking about talking to you this morning, I was like, “Where was I three years ago?” I was probably sitting deep in my grief of autism. And now here I am three years later, I can talk about autism without crying. I can share his story. I don’t have that. It doesn’t mean that grief doesn’t slip in. It doesn’t mean that the fears don’t slip in because they certainly do. And I think that potentially could be a lifelong weaving in and out. But God has certainly brought me to a place where I can say, “I feel this grief, I feel this fear, but I am laying it back to Jesus.” I am giving it back to Him.

Dawn Jackson

And what can I do in the present?

Candace Nassar

Yeah, that’s so beautiful. That’s that teachable heart that you realize that as I started this podcast. That we can either turn away and be angry and try to do it on our own. But you realized that wasn’t going to work.

Dawn Jackson

No, not at all.

Candace Nassar

And by leaning in, you now have peace. Like you said, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, but you have peace in the midst because you know God is walking through it with you. And I love that quote. That’s a great quote. So thank you so much. And so tell us how Weston has grown through this experience. I mean, I know he’s only five, but I know you shared some great things that he’s able to see and do.

Dawn Jackson

Yes. So Weston currently- Spiritual? Yes. So he’s currently in preschool. He has been at a specific preschool that specializes in kids that are on the spectrum. He’s been there for two and a half years and has had tremendous growth. And so currently he loves to sing. That’s his wheelhouse. And he was singing “Jesus Loves Me” to his teacher, and she actually made him a lyrics book. So it’s a book that has the lyrics to different songs that she’ll sing with him, and then he’ll read the lyrics and he’ll sing it with her. She even showed him this video of this little light of mine, and it had the three little light bulbs, and they were dancing across the screen. And he pointed and said, Barrett, Porter, and Weston. And it’s just, to me, such a picture of God already using Weston, recognizing that he is a light for Jesus. Despite his circumstances, despite what his light, what anyone might tell me his life will look like, God’s already using him. At five, he’s already deeply using that boy to glorify the Kingdom.

Candace Nassar

Yeah. And you had said that the teacher came to him when he was singing and was like, “I’m a Christian, too.” And that was a really special moment.

Dawn Jackson

Yes. She came over to me and she was like, “I want you to know that I’m a Christian.” I was like, “Oh, me too.” And she’s like, “I know, because Weston was singing songs to me about Jesus.” And I was like, “Oh, I love that.” So without me even having to say anything, she knew because he was already spreading Jesus.

Candace Nassar

Yeah. Because He recognizes you guys have already trained him in how God has made him special. And just because he’s unique and different doesn’t mean he doesn’t have incredible gifts to offer. And you said he’s so musical. So there you go. And there’s more. You’ll find out. Believe me, you will find out so many more things. And what about your other kids? How are they handling all of this?

Dawn Jackson

Honestly, Barrett and Porter have done better than I could have imagined. And I don’t know if it’s because of their age, they’re eight and eleven, but they just adore him. Porter, every single day, walks home from school, opens the front door, and he says, Weston, I’m home. Where’s my hug? He is ready for Weston. And I think ultimately, they have just the empathy that they’ve learned to have for other people when they struggle. And then the kindness to kids that do struggle has been a gift. And it’s hard to teach kids, I think, empathy and things like that. And Weston has just been the best teacher.

Candace Nassar

So good. So good. That’s part of God’s plan, for sure. Yes. Okay, so what encouraged you the most in your journey so far?

Dawn Jackson

So I go back to 1 Peter 5:7, which is, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares for you.” It would be so much harder to do this without God. We talked about that. I cannot imagine walking this journey without God. I’m so grateful for Jesus. So God has placed moms consistently in my life that have walked this journey beside me who understand it. You at one point, I think we only had our diagnosis for about one year when I met you, and you had gone up and you talked about your story. And I just was so hungry for hearing other moms in the same position as me who were maybe even not on the other side, but had walked it and your son had a job. And these things were so… These were the fears that I was having. Like, what if he doesn’t have a job? What if… And your son has a good job. He’s doing something. And so it was just so encouraging. And then for the moms who are new to their journey, it’s fun to see that circle where I get to come in and sit beside them.

Dawn Jackson

And that has been just a beautiful gift that God has given me that I can share. I’m only three years in, and I think 15 years in, there’ll be more wisdom. But for now, I can at least say I understand that grief. I understand where you’re at in this moment because it’s still very fresh to me.

Candace Nassar

Yes. Yes, absolutely. And that’s part of that whole James verse that you shared with us, that God will comfort us, and then we can comfort others. I love that, that you’re able to pour into others that are new to the journey. And it’s just such a blessing that I was able to encourage you, and it’s just how it works. And we need community. We all need community, but especially when we have a child with special needs, for sure, we need community, and Christian community to pray with us and just give us reminders every day that God is with us, and it’s going to be okay. And whatever it is, it’s God’s plan. And we can surrender and trust that. So clearly, you’ve come to a point where you’re no longer angry with God. You’re trusting him in it.

Dawn Jackson

Yes. Yes.

Candace Nassar

Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. So what would you say to a mom experiencing for the first time this diagnosis, this heartache, whatever? Even if it’s not autism, their child has diabetes or something else that’s really hard, what would you say to them?

Dawn Jackson

I think I would say, I see you. You are not alone in this. And the whys can lead to such fear, anxiety, frustration. And I truly encourage you to just give it to Jesus because the fear, the sadness, the unknown, it can be too much. And I think finding somebody to pray with, I would love to pray with you. Candace would love to pray with you. And I understand that parenting does not look like what you thought it would. And I get it. I’m there. I fully understand. But don’t underestimate God because you just need to give it back to God. Let him know that you surrender your life to him, and let him pick up the pieces.

Candace Nassar

That’s so good, Dawn. I love that. And absolutely, I would love to talk or pray with anyone, and I know you would as well. So if you’re a listener and you want to reach out to us, you can go on our website and fill out a prayer request form, or also you can email us at info@momq. Org, and we would be happy to respond and pray with you because it is a big, big deal when these things happen. All right, well, Dawn, that is just such a great story. I thank you so much for coming and sharing it with us and your vulnerability. Let me close this in prayer. God, we thank you that you have worked with Dawn and walked her through to the point where she can accept this diagnosis and trust you in the midst. Lord, I pray for those who are struggling today, whether it is they haven’t gotten a diagnosis or whether they are angry with God over what is going on in their child’s life. I just pray that you would minister to them and comfort them in the way that only you can, Lord, and that they would lean in and allow you to show them the way, show them the path that even though there is suffering, that you have a plan and a purpose in it, and that you will grow them.

Candace Nassar

And if they lean in, they will learn a new way to depend on you that will just bless their entire life, Lord. I pray that you will bring people around them to pray with them. I pray that you will just do the things that only you can do, Lord, to encourage these moms in this journey. And I thank you for Dawn and thank you for this time together in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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