Surprised by the Blessings – My Autistic Son Changed my Life

For most of her adult life, Stephanie Chung led a double life.

In public she was the beautiful and talented wife of successful businessman, Peter Chung. A concert pianist, she was a celebrity in her own right. But what most people didn’t know was that at home in her private life she struggled almost daily against the depression and stigma that came with being the mother of a severely handicapped son.

In Stephanie’s Korean culture, families are reluctant to admit to having children with disabilities. In fact, they are regarded as being a disgrace to their parents and bringing misfortune upon their families. For this reason, many people hide their disabled children and don’t ever acknowledge their existence outside of the home.

Stephanie had five children.  Her first child, Joseph, was born with autism but she wasn’t aware of it for a number of years.  She noticed that there was a slight difference between her first two sons.  But it wasn’t until she tried enrolling him in preschool that Stephanie realized just how different Joseph really was.

“I think you should take Joseph to a doctor,” the preschool teacher told her.

Still Stephanie was sure it was just a matter of cultural or language differences that made her oldest son different from his peers. She decided to find a Korean preschool and bring him there. However it wasn’t long before his new preschool teacher suggested he might have some learning disabilities and maybe he should see a doctor.

Joseph’s Diagnosis
Sure enough, doctors diagnosed Joseph with autism, a condition Stephanie had never heard of before. When she realized there was no cure for her son, she sank into a deep depression. You see, in her culture, a disabled child is considered a disgrace and it’s not unusual for families to hide their disabled children away. In her darkest hours, filled with shame and hurt, Stephanie questioned why she or her son had ever been born.

Finally she learned how to live a double life. In public she seemed like she had a perfect life. Her husband was a successful businessman; she herself was a concert pianist. But few people saw the pain she suffered in private.

When Joseph was about 8 his school went on a field trip – swimming at the ocean. Stephanie was consumed with last minute details for a wedding being held at their home that weekend. Swimming was one activity Joseph excelled at and he was eager to be off for the day.

“before I used to complain and ask God, ‘Why me?’ Nothing has changed for Joseph and yet now I am so thankful for him; so full of love towards him.”

God’s Plan for Stephanie and Joseph
God used a seemingly random occurrence to reveal his plan for Stephanie and Joseph.

Stephanie was scheduled to accompany a famous Korean singer at a concert in Vancouver. A local reporter contacted Stephanie to interview her to get the ‘local angle’. Usually when she was interviewed, and the topic of her family came up, Stephanie would skim over each child very quickly, in particular avoiding the topic of her oldest son, Joseph. For some reason on this day, the interviewer pressed her for information about him. Without thinking, Stephanie blurted out,

“he’s handicapped, and he’s a blessing.”

Well, when the interview was printed the title was,

“Stephanie Chung has an angel; his name is Joseph.”

And there was barely a word about the concert in the article!

Up until now, some people had known that Stephanie and Peter had an autistic son, but it certainly hadn’t been something that was widely known. With this article, not only was she letting the world know about Joseph’s condition, she was telling them how proud she was of him and that he was indeed one of the biggest blessings in her life.  Through the article, Stephanie invited women in similar situations to contact her.

“I knew what these women were going through,” shares Stephanie, “I’d been there. I wanted to be that shoulder for them, to hug them, cry with them, and let them know it would be okay.”


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