When we realize our kids will not have that picturesque childhood we wanted for them and ourselves, it can be very devastating for us parents. There are very few things in life that will cause more heartache than learning your child has autism. We only want the very best for our children, so accepting autism can be challenging for all parents.
We Must Push Forward
This time is tough and is a period of depression, sadness, and even guilt. Often times, Dads can shut down and detach from our families. However, quickly accepting autism is so important for us Dads. We need to be the rock for our family, and we cannot do that if we’re stuck. We must learn to quickly move on because our family needs us.
Accepting autism as part of your life is no easy feat. It’s certainly more easily said than done. I remember the day I realized that something was not quite right with my son. He wasn’t engaging in activities the way you’d expect a 2 year old to respond. He seemed to be indifferent to my efforts to play with him and did not really care about any art and craft activities.
Accepting Autism: Alone at First
As a stay at home Dad, I noticed the signs of autism far earlier than my wife. It was a good 6+ months before his Mom came to the same conclusion. I spent those 6 months in a state of loneliness and depression, and I remained in that poor state for about a year.
Now, I was still there and I helped my wife every step of the way, but I was not a happy person. I did not know what to expect and I felt kind of lost. It’s been 8 years since this time, and I have learned a valuable lesson. That is, life goes on even after the Autism Diagnosis.
As a veteran autism Dad, I have a few ideas that may help newly diagnosed Dads accept their kid’s diagnosis and move forward, so that they may be the man their family needs them to be.
Here are 5 tips for helping Dads accept autism.
1) Accept Your Child
When the dust settles, you have to remember that this little guy/girl is still your child. He is the same child you knew and loved. The only difference is that he now comes with a label.
Perhaps, now you can understand them a little better or recognize why they behave the way they do. Accept them for who they are not who they are not. Appreciate their little quirks and respond with patience and compassion during those rough points. You are still their Daddy. You love them autism and all, and they need to feel that. They will love you just as much. It may be hard for them to tell you, but they will show you in their own unique way.
2) Accept Your Tears
Parents who have a child diagnosed with autism go through the similar stages of grief as someone who lost a child. My wife & I miscarried with our first pregnancy and that was devastating. I imagine losing a child anytime after they were born, whether in the first few months or when they’re teenagers, would be 100x tougher. However, in some ways, getting that autism diagnosis is a similar feeling.
When that label enters your life, it signifies the death of what you dreamed your life would be as a father. It leaves us feeling empty, overwhelmed, and without a clue of what the future will hold. My fellow Dads, it is okay to grieve over the life you lost. Even if it were just a vision in your head, you still feel like you lost something or someone. So go ahead and cry, breakdown and grieve.
Just don’t take too long because there’s still a kid there who needs a Daddy and a wife that needs her teammate. Take a few days or even a couple weeks to process this new development. Then, get back in the game.
3)Accepting Autism is NOT Your Fault
As fathers, we see ourselves as the guardians of our family. Naturally, when something bad happens to the family there is a tendency to blame ourselves. I’ve spoken to many autism Dads throughout my journey, and this is a common sentiment. “Is this my fault? Should I have done something differently”
After all, we are their protectors, so we should have done something to prevent this. While I am a big advocate of holistic treatments for autism, there’s simply no way that Dads are to blame for their kid’s autism. Dads, let yourself off the hook. It is not your fault nor is it anyone’s fault. The sooner you stop blaming yourself the sooner you will be able to accept autism as part of your family.
4)Accept Your Role as an Autism Dad
Now that you’ve spent time to properly grieve, you’re ready to be the support your family needs. Too often Dads disappear after the diagnosis. Unable to cope, we lose ourselves in our work or we just shut down emotionally.
For most families, Mom leads the charge, especially at first, but that’s okay. It’s part of their process of coping with the diagnosis. Mom needs to make sure her baby is taken care of. However, they should not have to do it on their own. Again, make sure you take time to grieve, but don’t disappear for too long.
Jump in and help find therapies, call your health insurance company and get them to cover that therapy, and help care for this little handful too. They may have autism, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a Dad to play with. Find a way to connect with them. Remember, we are the guardians of the family, and we can’t stay on the sidelines while our wife does all the heavy lifting.
5) Accept Autism is Here to Stay
For some Dads, it’s hard to accept autism. Somewhere in their minds they think to themselves, maybe he’ll grow out of it.” Or, they might say, “not my boy”. They may even think they can fix their child. Perhaps, they have such awesome parenting skills that they think can parent the autism right out of them. Sadly, this is not case no matter how good of a Dad you are.
You might even hear about stories of kids recovering from autism, and I do believe that recovery is possible for some kids. I’ve personally met many families who have healed their children’s medical symptoms and their kids lost their autism diagnosis as a result. I’m a big believer in looking at autism through an integrated medical lens, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t accepted autism. Stories of recovery do happen, but for most of us it is a long shot.
Accepting Autism Today while Hopeful for the Future
There’s always hope, but while we hope for the future we must accept the present. I accept my son despite all the challenges that come with autism. I appreciate him for who he is and the joy he brings to my life everyday. After extensive diet changes and medical interventions through his doctor, my son’s autism has lessened over the years. I’ll continue to work hard to heal my son’s body and help him become the best he can be. If that means he loses his diagnosis then great, but if not, I will not love him any less.
It Gets Easier
Your life may feel overwhelming right now, but trust me. It does indeed get easier. I know this is the last thing you want to hear. I hated it when people said this to me when I was a new Autism Dad, but is so true. It does get easier. One day, you’ll look back at your life and be amazed at the transformation you, yourself have made. My son has taught me so much over the years. Not only am I a better Dad, I am a better man because of the lessons my son has taught me.
Autism is going to be a long journey, and it will challenge you daily. But it will also teach you to appreciate the things in life that truly matter. You have a beautiful child for you to love and care for, and when you see them smile, it makes it all worth it.
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*I wrote a version of this post originally published at Living Well Mom.