Autism, A Parent’s Perspective

Having a family member with special needs introduces you to a world of challenges, doctor’s appointments, spiritual warfare and new normals. This month, we’d like to share the story of special needs parents and pastors Isaac Dailey and his wife Lizzy. They serve Champions Clubs as West Coast Regional Directors. If you’re a special needs parent, please know that you’re not alone! We hope Isaac & Lizzy’s story encourages you. 

Isaac & Lizzy’s Story

Four years ago, my wife Liz and I started a journey with our son Calvin. When Calvin was two years old we noticed that he was not talking. Our pediatrician at that time started us down the road of speech therapy.  As time went on, we included infant development therapy and group therapy to his regimen. By the time Calvin turned the pivotal age of three, we had been going through a series of tests and very difficult meetings with doctors, pediatricians, therapists, and specialists.  

Two days after Calvin’s third birthday was the day that many of our emotions and feelings came to a head. It was a day that Liz and I struggled to accept. We didn’t want to put a “label” on our son, but in order for us to continue much-needed services and help in his process, we had to take him for his official development testing. This was indeed one of the most emotional days that I have ever experienced in my life. It is extremely difficult to watch your son be pushed to the limits and to be so panicked with anxiety in this clinical setting with a team of several doctors, development specialists, and many others.

This test was the final test that culminated a long process. We had already had many doctors and others visit our home to meet with us and look at Calvin. Long story short—our precious little Calvin was diagnosed with severe autism. Although Liz and I cried many tears that day, we love our son dearly and we had already decided that no matter what happened along this journey, God has big things in store for his life. Calvin has given us a big heart for the families that are on this road with their kids. 
Right after Calvin’s diagnosis we had many decisions to make.

At three years old a lot of the services change, and many of the quality services you really have to fight for.  One of our biggest hurdles was how we were going to walk this journey out at our church as pastors. We knew at this time that we had a new mission in the church. Theologically and biblically we know that God formed Calvin and knit him together in his mother’s womb. We don’t look at Calvin and say that there is something wrong with him. We look at him and say that he is very unique and gifted. It is interesting that the whole reason I named him Calvin was because of our belief in God’s sovereign grace and goodness.  We have definitely felt His grace andgoodness in our lives. Long before we even knew where this journey would lead with Calvin, I was struck by a powerful quote from his namesake John Calvin: “The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life.  It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” After many tears and processing, I realized as a pastor that it’s one thing to preach the Gospel, but quite another thing to let it possess your entire soul when you go through things like this.

Even though we were strong in our faith and stance about our son’s new diagnosis, we knew that outside resources were going to be limited—especially within the church.  We wanted Calvin to be included in church, just like his typically developing brother Noah.  We wanted him to hear the gospel. We wanted him to experience Jesus. We just didn’t know how it would come together. With an estimate of only 1% of churches globally offering services to the special needs population,we knew we had to be part of the change—not just for our son, but for all of the families we were meeting along the way. 

That’s when some friends of ours recommended Champions Club.  After hearing about Champions Club, we were able to connect right away with Dr. Sandra Robinson, she was the West Coast Regional Director at that time. Within six months of our son’s diagnosis, we launched our first Champions Club model at Liberty Church in Fairfield, CA. Within months of launching, we had more than 50 families visit the club and had many churches in the Northern California area contact us about our club. Through our church relationships we were able to assist in other local churches launching their own Champions Club models.

We know that Champions Club and special needs ministry will be a part of our calling going forward. God has opened so many doors, and we have had the honor to get to know many families that we would have otherwise never had the opportunity to meet. Because of Champions Club, we have seen entire families meet Jesus and connect with the local church. It is amazing to me how God is using this ministry and our precious Champions to bring their parents and families to Jesus.

We just recently started pastoring at Valley Church and are excited about launching another Champions Club model at the Vacaville location in the fall of this year.  As the West Coast Regional Directors, we are honored to minister in our own church while also helping other churches go forward in ministering to this amazing population.  

Recently I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed on my father’s new leadership podcast entitled “Leadership Stuff.”  You can find it wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. I would encourage you to check out his recent two-part interview with me (Episode 8 and 9).  In Episode 9 I discuss Champions and my involvement with this ministry.

Isaac Dailey