It would be easy to pretend like I was completely fine when I learned my son had Autism and might possibly never speak. I could say something like how “I looked into that baby’s eyes and knew that it would all be OK.” I can sing songs and write poems and give this whole blog a much more enlightened feel. It would make for a great story.
A story, though, is all it would be because while I hate to think about it, I didn’t feel that way. I wasn’t at peace with his diagnosis and I didn’t accept reality immediately. I didn’t even know what reality would be. There were no parting clouds and beams of wisdom from above. No. There were brooding thoughts and afternoons zoning out in front of my Xbox. I was afraid of what the future would be like and no one was there to tell me what to expect.
I’m not proud of the time it took me to come to grips with, what would turn out to be, a completely normal situation for us. My son is beyond wonderful and, for a while in the beginning, I feared he wouldn’t be. While that time might make me feel foolish or ignorant in hindsight, I recognize its importance in shaping our relationship. Knowing how I saw things initially and realizing how far my son, Lucas, has gone in proving those worries wrong makes him such a special part of my life. It’s like he alleviated so many of my concerns without either of us ever even saying a word.
Despite hearing about “Autism” constantly when preparing to have a child, I knew next to nothing about what came once it affected my life. That isn’t something that’s discussed past the prevention phase. They test for it. They warn you about it. You worry about it. That’s it. It’s treated like a cold and the doctor does everything except say, “Be careful your kid doesn’t catch the Autism.”
That’s where the conversation stops. No one tells you what to do once it’s there or what it will be like when it is. You find yourself not only facing a situation that you know nothing about, but strangely fearing it without any idea of why you even should.
That’s all I had. I was afraid of uncertainty. Because of that, I had to guess at what I should be worried about and the possibilities I pictured were all the direst. Not only did I think he would never speak, but I never imagined he would hug me, smile, interact, or even be able to stop himself from walking straight into traffic. I envisioned a future where I would constantly be chasing around a kid who couldn’t care less if I was there.
A lot of that, for our family, never came true. He hugs and he loves and he does all the things that I worried he never would. While the verbal skills still haven’t shown up and he can require some special care at different times, it hasn’t been anything even close to how I scared myself into thinking it would be. Rather, he’s been my son in every wonderful sense of the word and our relationship has formed around all the quirks that make both of us unique.
That might not be true for another parent to a child with Autism, but it’s true for us. That can actually be said for anything I ever write about any sort of parenting in our home. Families are affected by different things in different ways. In fact, the only constant that really rings true for all parents – on and off the spectrum – is the most terrifying task of all – believing in yourself.
It was never about what he would or wouldn’t do that stuck to me the hardest. No. The scariest step was admitting to myself that I could raise him at all. Every parent of any child, with Autism or not, has reached a similar impasse. It’s that one moment when you realize, “Oh. Wait. I’m in charge of all of this? Me?!”
With my daughter, I was shocked when they let us take her home from the hospital without passing some sort of written exam. How could they trust us to know what to do and how to do it? I didn’t even trust us. It wasn’t until three o’clock that next morning as my half-open eyes tried to focus on a shoe-sized human being in my arms while I was one sneeze away from accidentally flinging her across the room that I came to grips with my confidence. It was that moment that I realized how this parenting thing was possible. Yes. I could do this. In fact, I was doing it. I was being a dad.
For my son, it was different. As a three-year veteran of the not-sneezing-and-flinging-babies game, I knew I could care for another one. I’d raise my second child just as I raised my first. Leaving the hospital with him that first day was much less scary than the first time around.
The fearful moment of uncertainty with Lucas wasn’t completely gone, though. It was only postponed until nearly two years later, when he was showing major delays and we first heard the word “Autism”. Suddenly, I was left questioning my own ability to simply be a competent father in a world I knew nothing about.
After all, that diagnosis felt like it changed everything. I had barely gotten half comfortable with caring for his three-year-old sister without Autism. Now it’s like, “Here you go. We looked at your son. He’s going to have a unique set of challenges. We don’t know what they are and can’t even give you a basic idea. Everything you’ve ever heard about this is scary as hell. Keep him alive. Be sure to see the receptionist on the way out.”
I can honestly tell you, years later, that he and I have exceeded my wildest expectations. It means a lot to be able to say that. Confidence for me, much like confidence for most other people, can sometimes be difficult to come by. Even for tasks I know I can accomplish, there is a voice in the back of my skull reminding me, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” So when I’m able to overcome that, push forward, and recognize how great everything turned out, it’s a big deal. It’s made even bigger by the fact that this was one of the two most important responsibilities I’ve ever been blessed with having. In both cases, I couldn’t be prouder of them or me.
Never beat yourself up about concerns for your children, even if misplaced at first. Whether they have Autism, any additional needs, or just happen to be a tiny human who demands food from you, kids are a major responsibility. If the thought of all the important obligations they bring with them doesn’t make you at least a little sick to your stomach, then you’re too comfortable. The things we care about the most are also the things that should worry us now and then.
Nothing is more important that doing right by your kids. Worry about it. Fear it. Question your ability to even try it. Then, after all that, go and do it because you can.