A high pitched squeal of laughter pierces the otherwise reverent Sacrament Meeting as my son, Cohen, races at full speed towards the stand. My husband’s feet are heavy and loud as he sprints after him. Besides a few suppressed smiles, barely anyone reacts; maybe they don’t even notice anymore as this is a normal occurrence several times each and every week.
Cohen has autism. He has very limited verbal skills and practically zero impulse control. Yet there is a joy that resonates off of him. So while he is creating mischief and messes, you can’t help but smile at him. His body may be eight years old, but his mind is closer to that of a toddler.
During the months before his 8th birthday, my husband and I began to discuss something we never thought we would question. Should we baptize our son? We were both returned missionaries, married in the temple, and faithful church members. Our oldest son had been baptized. It seemed unnatural for us to not baptize Cohen.
However, as the date drew closer and the more we prayed, we knew it wasn’t the right choice for him. We made our decision based on two things. First, with his limited communication, he could not tell us if it was something he wanted. He could not express his testimony of Jesus Christ or of the restored gospel. And … there was no way of knowing what, if anything, he understood of the promises he would be making.
Second, while Cohen may have physically reached the age of accountability, it states in Moroni 8:11
“And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.“
In order to commit a sin, one needs to be able to recognize right from wrong. Cohen was not yet able to do that.
So we prayed and we consulted with our Bishop who agreed that it was not the right time. Perhaps someday in the future, but for now Cohen did not need to be baptized. I felt at total peace with our decision. I knew the Lord had answered our question and we were doing what was right for our son.
I felt peace . . . and then I mourned.
I mourned for the missed pictures of all our family and friends gathered around Cohen in a white jumpsuit. I mourned for the excitement of seeing him in a new suit, carrying his first set of scriptures. I mourned for seeing him receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I mourned for seeing him called to the stand to be recognized as the newest member of the Ward. Mostly I mourned for one more day added onto the already long list of days and things that Cohen misses out on because of his autism.
I understood that while these things I mourned for were temporal, in the spiritual sense he was doing exactly what Heavenly Father wanted of him. However, that didn’t make the pain any less. I mourned in silence, not knowing who I could turn to since we were in uncharted territory. We didn’t know anyone who had gone through a similar situation.
Then, one day a few weeks before his 8th birthday, Heavenly Father proved that he knew the desires of my heart. Within days of each other, my mom and the ward’s Primary President approached me with ideas on how to still give Cohen a special day and to still be able to celebrate him. Plans were made. A new suit was purchased.
On the first Fast Sunday after his 8th birthday, friends and family attended church with us. During Sacrament Meeting, the Bishop asked that Cohen come up to the stand. He giggled the entire way up, finding joy in being allowed up there without the usual sprint. As Cohen stood next to him on the stand, the Bishop explained that it had been decided that Cohen did not need to be baptized at this time … that he was unblemished and perfect in the sight of God. He then talked briefly about what a joy it is to have Cohen in the ward and expressed the love he had for him.
This meant the world to me. We were watching the Atonement in action. Here we had a judge in Israel declaring a person unblemished and not in need of baptism. My son! It was quite humbling to think about.
During sharing time, the Primary President also asked Cohen to come to the front. He stood up there beaming with his big brother’s arm around him. They sang two of his favorite primary songs and told him they loved him.
After church, friends and family gathered in our home. We held a short program designed to match the one used at baptisms. We started with a prayer and then my husband and I both talked about Cohen. We shared our hopes for him as well as our love for him. Then, my husband gave him a special Father’s Blessing. The Spirit during that blessing was very strong. The Bishop spoke and shared a scripture and then we ended with a prayer. It was a short program, but it meant everything to me.
This experience taught me a profound lesson about God’s love for all of his children and proved to me how he works through others to show that love. I am so grateful that my family and my Ward followed promptings that I am sure were from the Spirit. The day was exactly what I wanted for him. It celebrated Cohen for being him and it gave him a special day. Perhaps one day in the future, Cohen will progress enough to where he will be able to share his testimony of the Gospel and express his own desire to be baptized.
For now, however, when I come upon those days when it seems as though the world might overlook him, I will know that he is always remembered in the eyes of the Lord.