Sunday, June 21, 2015

Autism Dad

When Ed envisioned fatherhood, I have no doubt that he never pictured himself as being an autism dad. Nonetheless, he has not only accepted the additional responsibilities and concerns of raising a child with autism, but he has also become more patient and more devoted because of Alex’s special needs. Unlike some fathers who flee when the terrain becomes rocky, Ed has remained steadfast as we have worked together cooperatively to parent Alex the best way we know how. Today on Father’s Day, I would like to give Alex’s dad proper credit for just a few of the many things he does to make Alex’s life––and therefore, my life––better, or in the affirming words of Alex, “good and special.”

1. He has created a younger version of himself in Alex. As Alex grows older, he has become his dad’s twin who loves math, seafood, and Bob Dylan—all things that I despise. Sometimes, when I hear the caterwauling of Bob’s voice coming from the basement while they are listening to him “sing,” I suspect that they are enjoying the thought of annoying me by turning up the volume so that I must listen, as well. While I don’t dare venture any closer when they are listening to music, I do enjoy observing the two of them as they watch sports together on television. Although Alex enjoys the numerical aspects of sports, such as statistics, I think he enjoys spending time with his dad even more. Their shared contentment makes me content—even when I don’t agree with their taste in music.

2. He takes great pride in all of Alex’s accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Having gone through some very difficult stages with Alex, we are grateful when things go smoothly. Whenever we take Alex to a restaurant or a family gathering, we are amazed how well Alex behaves now, and Ed always praises Alex and tells him how much fun going places with him is. Also, Ed will later comment to me about how good Alex’s behavior was and about how he appreciates that we can relax when we take him places because he is so good now. In addition, Ed’s pride in Alex shines through when he tells me about his experiences dropping off and picking up Alex at his day program, which is one of the responsibilities he has gladly assumed. Although we were a little nervous about how Alex would do in the day program, Ed has been pleased to share with me the positive response Alex has received from the staff and the other clients.

3. He has become amazingly patient. Because autism has presented many obstacles for Alex, mastering skills often takes a long time. Nonetheless, Ed encourages him constantly with praise and convinces Alex that he can do tasks that seem too hard for him. Although I tend to want to do things for Alex because I don’t want him to be frustrated, Ed knows that Alex must do things for himself and coaches him patiently so that he can feel the sense of accomplishment of doing something himself, even if it takes some time. In addition, Ed gently and patiently encourages Alex to improve, reminding him to stand up straight with his hands at his sides and encouraging him to speak louder so that we can hear what he has to say. Sometimes figuring out what Alex is saying is like playing a game where we ask him, “Where did you see that?” “What letter does it start with?” “Can you spell that?” and “What’s the most important word in that sentence?” to see if we can use clues to figure out what he’s trying to tell us. Because Ed never gives up on trying to hear what Alex is trying to tell him, Alex patiently tries to explain to us what he’s saying so that we can understand him.

4. He supports me, no matter what. Through the years, I have many times become excited about some new autism research and methods I have found, and Ed never dampens my enthusiasm for trying something new. Although he asks questions, I know that he shows the wisdom to be led by his head when I tend to be led by my heart, and I know that he trusts my judgment if I truly believe that we need to try something new with Alex. Even though he doesn’t find medical research as fascinating as I do, he patiently listens as I happily rattle off the details. Last week, he even watched an hour webinar on his own volition given by a doctor whom he knows I admire and then told me about a question and answer session I had not yet seen that we watched together and discussed. To know that Ed always believes that I am doing what’s best for Alex has given me confidence to try new things that I would not have been brave enough to try on my own. For that trust, I will always be grateful.

5. He loves Alex as much as I do. Because Alex requires so much time, energy, and attention, he must come first in our lives. Although marriage counselors say that parents must put their spouses first instead of the children to keep a marriage strong, this prioritizing does not work when the children have special needs. Knowing that Ed is as devoted to Alex as I am, I know that he is not jealous of the all-consuming love I have for him because I know he feels the same way. By the same token, I understand that he loves Alex unconditionally, and that comforts me. Moreover, our shared devotion to Alex is precisely what has made our marriage strong: we share the same goal to provide Alex with a happy life in which he can reach his full potential.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, especially the autism dads whose lives didn’t turn out the way they’d planned, but whose children blessed them in ways they’d never predicted. Every day I thank God for Ed who blesses Alex and me with his unconditional love for both of us. “There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do, go to the ends of the Earth for you, make you happy, make your dreams come true, to make you feel my love.”––Bob Dylan

“My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions.” Proverbs 4:1-2


Babs said...

He is the most patient, loving father I have ever met. Alex is one lucky boy to have him as his father. Happy Father's Day.

K. C. Wells said...

What a sweet tribute! I hope Ed enjoyed his special day. :)

V ickie said...

What a wonderful tribute! Hope it was a Happy Father's Day!

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Babs, K.C., and Vickie!
Thank you for your nice comments. Alex and I both know how lucky he is to have such a terrific daddy. We had a very nice Father's Day and were fortunate to be able to visit with my nephew, who was celebrating his first Father's Day, and his family. :)