In honor of Father’s Day, I’ve recently thought a lot about what it means to be a dad. Growing up, my father was my hero; in my eyes, he could do no wrong. He always protected our family and even during times of struggle he did his best to shelter us from any pain. Are these qualities any different for an “autism dad?”
On a recent Facebook post, Love My Provider asked, “What does autism dad mean to you?” Followers responded with words such as “accepting“ and “patient”.
Steve Wilson wrote:
“Being there for my son. It means taking the other aisle at the store where there’s a few less people. It means listening to what he says and playing detective to find the meaning. It means smiling at the people at the park when he gets a little loud. It means taking a little time everyday to make sure he knows I love him. It means making him feel like he’s the most awesome boy in the world. It means learning to find new energies for your patience. It means not screaming back when he screams. It means losing my flare for the spontaneous to keep the schedule and a smile on his face. It means pretending to be on a train while we sit on the couch. It means biting my tongue and keeping my cool. It means being OK with all of the wild and crazy shenanigans and still loving him. It means never giving up. It means crying alone sometimes, or with my wife. But the most important thing it means…never forgetting, as hard and challenging as it may be sometimes, that it’s always hardest for him and not me. It means taking the few hugs and kisses and cherishing them. It means I love my son.”
My journey with my son as well as my experience as a BCBA has given me a unique perspective on what an autism dad is and/or should be. While the aforementioned qualities are definitely representative of an autism dad, the road to embody those qualities may be demanding and uncommon. Having a child with autism adds a new layer to a family dynamic, especially in my family since both my husband and I are BCBAs. I feel that being an autism dad is the most challenging role. Typically, (though not always,) dads are the backbone of their families and try to limit their love ones from detecting fear or concern. When a child is diagnosed with autism, how is a dad expected to respond? I remember looking at my husband after the doctor gave my son the diagnosis, and even though I knew he was dying inside, he did not express any emotion. Being an autism dad has been especially difficult for my husband because of his experiences as a clinician. The diagnosis exposed fears, anxieties, and even a sense of loss of a part of our child. He wondered: Will we ever be able to share any common interests? Will we be able to engage in leisure activities together? Will we have to care for him the rest of his life? While these fears may seem insignificant in comparison to what is associated with the diagnosis, I feel these are definite commonalities among autism dads. To get to a place of acceptance, autism dads may have to change their expectations for their children. For example, instead of expecting my son to play a game of t-ball with the neighborhood kids, my husband set an expectation that our son would merely hit the ball off the tee or even stand in close proximity to the other kids and watch the game. My husband also became more cognizant of our son’s likes and interests (rather than dwelling on what he didn’t like) and capitalized on those opportunities to connect and spend more time with him. I will never forget the first time my husband came home from work and my son said, “Go outside and hit baseballs with daddy, not mommy.” Modifying his expectations for our son permitted my husband to be more “patient” and allow himself to celebrate small victories and milestones on a regular basis.
Every step forward should be viewed as a huge accomplishment, not just for the child but also for the autism dad supporting him/her.
I wholeheartedly believe autism dads love their children so deeply they will stop at nothing to fight to give them the life they deserve. Not only are autism dads “accepting” and “patient”, but also extremely courageous. Autism dads never give up on their children because they love them unconditionally. And we must celebrate them for all they do. Autism is not an easy road, but autism dads make it a bit easier.
Another one of our Facebook friends, Alisa Bagwell, shared these kind words:
“David Shockley is who comes to my mind when I think of “autism dad.” He is a true advocate for his son. He doesn’t back down and stands firm while making sure his son has every opportunity any other child is entitled to. Not only that but he is a wonderful family
Do you have a special Autism Dad you’d like to honor this year? Let us know!