Those of us parenting a child with autism are grateful for the attempts to heighten awareness of autism, but we jokingly don’t feel a need to be reminded of autism with a specialty-designated month.
We are already aware! If you have a child with autism in your household, every day is about autism awareness. You are reminded of it with almost every waking moment.
I’ve been an autism dad for 15 years now, but I vividly remember the early experience.
I wrote these words recently.
“I had no plan. No plan at all. I had always prided myself on the belief that given time, I could solve any problem, fix any circumstance, and overcome any obstacle. Now I had no idea what to do.
I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word out loud. If I didn’t say it out loud, perhaps over time it would go away. As long as I didn’t say the word ‘autism,’ then my son really didn’t have it.
I nuanced it for years.
‘He’ll outgrow it. He’s just a little delayed.’
‘He’s on the spectrum, but he’s not autistic.’
‘He has sensory processing issues, but he’s not autistic.’
I was an ostrich-dad, sticking my head in the sand to avoid reality, and to avoid noticing the obvious.
Now after all these years I realize I was a typical dad, stuck in denial and emotionally paralyzed by my fear and lack of understanding and acceptance.
I wasn’t ready for this. Who was ever ready for this? My world had been turned upside down, and I hated living in the upside-down world.”
I lived in denial and anger for the first couple of years. I almost let it destroy me.
We knew so little about autism 15 years ago. We didn’t know that by this time, 1 in 68 children would be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, according to the CDC. We didn’t know it would affect 1 in 42 boys by this time.
We didn’t anticipate that, if the current growth rate continues unabated, 1 in every 2 boys could be affected by 2025.
As a dad, your natural first response is, “I can fix this.”
That’s what I thought too. But I soon became obsessed and fixated on solving the issues. I was too busy “fixing” my son to be his father. Sometimes he needed a dad, not another therapist.
Almost every new special needs dad I meet goes through three distinct seasons of grief.
- Obsession with “fixing” his child.
You have a choice, dad. You can wallow in anger, denial, blame, and your own obsession to fix the brokenness. Or you can embrace the brokenness with unconditional love.
Embrace your child with special needs just the way God created your child, and love them unconditionally and passionately with all your heart.
I’ve been the dad of a child with profound special needs for over seventeen years now.
I’ve come to treasure the sometimes small, but exceedingly joyful moments that this journey has to offer. I’ve also learned to weather the walks on the Dark Side, and recognize the triggers that set me off on that journey.
But to this day, I still regret the early years when I allowed my anger, denial, and obsession with “fixing” my son to rob me of the sheer joy of just being my son’s dad.
Eventually I came to understand the only statistic that really mattered.
All that mattered to me was that I had one son, and he had autism.
So I made a decision. A choice.
I chose to love my son unconditionally just the way he was…autistic.
I chose to embrace his differences, accept his challenges, and love him for who he was…my son.
I chose to go into his world and engage with him without reservation and qualification.
Autism is just a label. Just like the word…son.
The former word describes him, but the latter word defines him.
He is my son. So I am his warrior, protector, provider, encourager and equipper.
Which role do you feel a need to invest more of yourself in for your child?
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power
so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.
May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.
He has enabled you to share in the inheritance
that belongs to his people, who live in the light.
By Jeff Davidson
Husband to Becky, Father of one
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Rising Above Ministries
Author of No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches: a father, a son with special needs, and their journey with God
HeartCORe Parenting Conference in Denver
May 9, 2015
Join 1C13P at Calvary Church!
Go to Calvary’s website to register.