I remember when I knew something was different about our son. His eyes were turnedsideways and he often wouldn’t respond even if you yelled his name. He was obsessed with spinning objects and his favorite thing was our ceiling fan. He turned his matchbox cars over and spun the wheels with his eyes glued to the movement. He walked in a gliding fashion around and around our backyard right next to the fence with his eyes glued to the boards. We discovered his love for bowling – not because of the fun of it, but because of the sound the pins made when they would crash to the floor. The garbage truck had to always come on Friday. If it didn’t, or if he missed it, it was meltdown time. He wanted our car doors to close in a particular order... the list could go on.
If you saw my son now, you would never know any of this happened. You would potentially pick up on some of his odd behaviors, random noises or slight obsessiveness. If you tried to have an in depth conversation with him, you might notice he didn’t quite follow you. But where he is today is light years ahead of where he was. He is 7 years old now, and I can say that life with him is an adventure every day.
I decided to write this post because I often hear about mothers of children with autism, but never anything from fathers. When I found out our son had autism, I tried to find other fathers to inquire about how they were dealing with it. I found nothing. Everywhere I looked it seemed that fathers were in denial, absent from the situation as much as possible, or just not saying anything to anyone.
Finding out your son has autism feels like a ton of bricks suddenly got dropped on your chest. You don’t know what to do, where to turn, or how to handle the situation. We found out when our son was 3. All of my hopes of playing catch, or doing ‘guy stuff’ suddenly came into question. This is how it felt for me. I felt that I couldn’t talk to any of my friends about it for fear of them judging me, or not understanding, or just not even seeing evidence of his diagnosis. I felt very alone for a few years.
I cried, prayed, and felt hopeless before things began to turn around. I really think I sort of grieved in a way – mostly over the fact that I wanted the best for my son, and I wasn’t sure what would be possible for him in the future.
I want to encourage any fathers who may be reading this now. If your son has a disability of any kind, I likely know how you feel. I want to share 10 things that I’ve learned as a father of a son with special needs with the hope that they may help you get through the hard days.
1. It’s not your fault. If you’re like me, you may think back and ask yourself if there was anything you did that may have caused your son to have a disability. Stop this way of thinking as soon as you can. It will prevent you from moving on. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
2. Don’t expect your family or friends to understand. You’re probably not going to get the support you need from family or friends. BUT it’s not that they don’t care about you – it’s that they simply can’t relate. Think of it like you just witnessed the MATRIX and came back to talk about it. Some will believe you, and some won’t. Some will see it, some won’t. The important thing to remember is that you know your kid. If you see it, go with your gut and get your son or daughter help. Don’t wait around for friends or family to support you. It may or may not happen.
3. Take comments with a grain of salt. Many times when we tried to share certain things about our son with friends, we would get comments like, “Well, my son does that too.” or “He doesn’t seem that bad to me.” As much as these comments would hurt and frustrate us, my wife and I eventually learned that the reason people make these comments isn’t to hurt us but to try and help us feel better. They didn’t realize it was having the opposite effect. We were seeking validation from people who didn’t really get it. Eventually we learned we had to let these comments slide and not take them so personally.
4. Don’t live in denial. I hear stories of so many parents who deny that their child has special needs. My wife and I see it all the time. If you know that something is
different about your child, the best thing you can do is have your child evaluated.
Worry about how that impacts your world later. Your child needs to come first.
5. Don’t read too many articles. Don’t freak yourself out about vaccines or all of the possible causes of your child’s situation. Worry less about the cause and more about helping your child. All the time you spend researching causes could be spent helping your child.
6. Cherish the surprises. What you think will never come, just might. I remember I longed to hear the words, “I love you”. At the time, I didn’t know if I would hear
those words based on his unusual behavior. He said it on his own in January when he was 5 years old. It was a pleasant surprise and I’ll never forget it.
7. You’re a dad. Be proud. You have been blessed with a child when many can’t even have children. I know you likely have expectations but remember, they’re just expectations. You never know what life may bring, and that’s what makes life so special, isn’t it? You are a dad and play a unique role in his/her life. No one can or should replace you. Embrace it no matter your circumstances.
8. Know your limits. You’re going to need breaks. A lot of them. Talk with your spouse about giving each other relief, and how to communicate when you need a break. Don’t get mad at each other if you’re stressed over your child. Think relay race. It’s your turn, then it’s hers.
9. Love your spouse. You’ve got to be a team to get through this. Your wife is not your enemy, and is likely the only person on this planet who will be able to understand how you feel on a daily basis. Practice putting the needs of your wife before your own. Eventually you’ll see that your attitude will shift and you’ll be more able to put your child’s needs before your own.
10. Encourage other dads. Do your part to encourage other fathers who have children with special needs. 1 in 54 boys supposedly have autism and yet where are the fathers? Join me in being an encouragement to others. They need it just like you.
- Jason Bailey