Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Being A Father

As sit here and write this on Father’s Day I begin to think about what it means to be a father. I struggle with this sometimes because I really want to be a good father. That is because I was fortunate enough to have a great father. But, with an autistic child it’s harder to do the things that he did.

Let me start by saying that I was so happy when I found out I was going to be a father for the first time. I have always been proud of Konner, and can honestly say that I have never been disappointed. I know that I have written in past columns that some fathers struggle with the fact that their children are not going to be like others, but I can say that is not true with me. I have always had high goals for him, and everyday he seems to push them higher. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Seeing him read a book, watching him graduate kindergarten, when he rides his tricycle, when he hugs and kisses him mom; these are things that make fatherhood fun.

That’s not to say that he’s perfect. He has his issues, as any other child does (don’t get me started on his neurotypical brother). But as the saying goes, he’s close enough to perfect for me.

This is why I write this column I guess. When I began researching Autism three years ago I began noticing a trend. There were books by mothers; i.e. Jenny McCarthy, Holley Robinson-Peete; autistic people; i.e. Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison; and many doctors, advocates, and therapists. There were not any from fathers (at least that I have found). So I thought I would try to give some insight into my point-of-view. I didn’t know if anyone would actually want to hear it, but I have never been afraid to give my opinion. Recently I have had some great feedback, and feel like I might be doing some good.

As far as being a father, I still struggle with that daily. You see, when you have a great father there are good points and bad points. The good is that I had a great blueprint to go by. The bad is that I have some big shoes to fill.

I feel that I have turned out to be a pretty good guy due to my father (and my mother) raising me right. My dad was pretty strict on me though. I can remember that, when we would go anywhere we were expected to act right, not yell, not talk back, and to what we were told. If my dad said to do something he didn’t repeat himself, and we never told him no or we would be punished. If he asked a question we had to have an answer immediately. My dad’s form of punishment was a spanking. I don’t remember getting very many, but I do remember the one’s I got. Dad was not mean or abusive in any way. He just expected certain things from us.

Now, as a father, I struggle with this. I expect the same things, and I don’t always get them. Anyone raising an autistic child is probably laughing at many of the things I just talked about. Going out in public with an autistic child is an experience. You never know what you’re going to get. But you have to do it in order for that child to get used to being around others. Not yelling, huh, wish I could figure this one out. Repeating yourself with an autistic child is common. You have to ask questions a couple times, and usually wait 30 seconds or more for the answer.

As for punishment, well, I haven’t figured this one out just yet either. Spanking an autistic child is like spitting into the wind. It is counterproductive most of the time. Konner is under-sensitive to  touch, so I would have to spank him too hard if I were going to do any good. Then he feels like you are hitting him, so he wants to hit you back. Most of the time this sparks a meltdown, then you’re in a worse predicament than when you started. I’ve tried time-out, but he doesn’t sit still very well, and when you force him to you’re just adding fuel to a fire again. Again, this is still a work in progress.

My point is that I have to modify my father’s teaching. What is good for one child is not always good for another.

Then you get into raising a child with Autism and raising a neurotypical child. It hasn’t happened yet, but one day Kruz is going to ask why he is treated different and vice versa.

I am appreciative of the parenting foundation that my parents laid for me, and I’m grateful that my father was such a good father. I want to say a belated happy Father’s Day to him, and to all the fathers out there.

I especially want to say happy Father’s day to any fathers of autistic children. It’s a unique struggle, but you need to work with your children. They need their father just as much as their mother.

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