When People Commend My Patience As A Special Needs Dad

Lucas was up at four this morning. I mention that as it’s interesting to some people, but it’s also kind of pointless because he’s up at four every morning.

My boy loves the iPad. That screen is his ultimate stimming device and, as a non-verbal child with autism, it’s his favorite toy for starting and stopping videos. Because of this, he opens his eyes at first daybreak and drunkenly wobbles his way to the gate at his bedroom door. From there, he begins pounding on the metal like as if auditioning for the prisoner role in a 1930s movie.

I try to coax him back to sleep. If that doesn’t work, he gets his device no earlier than five. What follows is a pretty mind-bending sixty minutes.

Over that hour, it’s hell on Earth. He lays down to appease me but then jumps up every five to ten minutes for a fresh round of door rattling. Like Fight Club, I am in a perpetual state of near-sleep, talking out loud to no one and constantly adjusting to a new reality. There are bizarre half-dreams and confusing sounds of crashing as he tosses every item in his room to the hallway outside. 

Not encouraging him to awake with the roosters is for his own good. Although it would make my mornings much easier to give into his four o’clock demands, it would ruin his whole day. He isn’t interested in for-his-own-good nonsense though. No kid is. All he wants is his iPad. That’s the goal and you can’t deter him. This morning was one of those awful hour mornings. Eventually, he got it at five.

This allowed me a pittance of extra sleep after placing it in his eager little hands. Despite his gleeful screams, requests for water, and door-banging for the sake of door-banging, I snuck in about two more hours of disjointed rest. It was a welcome amount of sleep during a time when I rarely am afforded it. Lucky me, right?

Wrong. When I woke up, he was naked in his room.

What followed was an emergency load of laundry, an unexpected bath, and stumbling from room to room shaking my head at him as he peered from the tub to see me scurrying about. When I took too long to come back and get him from the bath, he started throwing bottles of body wash to the bathroom floor. It is one of his favorite ways to get my attention and it’s maddening. Calgon, take me away.

The funny part is that people who commend my “patience” when raising an eleven-year-old with special needs have no idea about mornings like this. Instead, they see him whine at a supermarket or meltdown at a restaurant. Those moments are amateur hour compared to our 4AM wake-up calls.

father son non verbal

Honestly, though, what is patience anyway? What makes me “patient”? What could I do in those moments that would make me somehow not patient? Beat him up? Run away?

Punishments and violence aren’t an option. I don’t strike my kids and raise my voice infrequently. That said, I comically daydream about during these times. We all do. Violence and insanity only count in actions, not in thoughts.

In my thoughts, I rev up like Charlie Brown and kick his football-like frame straight through his bedroom window and into the home of my nosey neighbor across the street. I can see his little round body flying from the house as if he was Elliot in ET bike-riding across the moon. I’m an NFL punter and he’s the little extra point. You get the picture. It doesn’t count if you think it.

Running away goes through my mind too. I picture being on a beach with a fake name and bleach blonde hair, grifting local marks to invest in my crypto-snake oil startup business. I steal yachts from distracted debutantes and talk my way into parties among the upper echelon. Eventually, Dateline NBC would do a story about me called “Getting Father Away” and…

…as I imagine all that, he comes over and wraps his arms around me in a hug. If I try to move in the slightest, he grips tighter. I look down at his face, just a few inches below mine and there’s a smile waiting for me. I melt. He’s my life. I’m not going anywhere.

bedtime non verbal child

The fact of the matter is that Lucas taught me patience long before I ever needed it in these situations. What most people without children like him don’t get is that the universe gives you a crash course in patience right from the start.

All new parents plot out milestones. People ask about them. When is he walking? When is he talking? The questions pile up and the waiting feels endless. I had no idea when he would say his first words. I just knew that they were coming. So I waited.

…and waited…and waited.

They still haven’t come and that early waiting taught me that nothing in life is guaranteed. Whether you’re waiting for a job that you are positive you nailed in the interview, a love who just can’t figure out what is holding them back from committing to a full relationship, or a food delivery right before the restaurant is set to close, there are no guarantees of anything at the end of your waiting period.

Maybe the hiring manager quit in a fit of rage and now the job has been eliminated until they fumigate the office. Perhaps your love interest has reached the limit in what they want from their time with you. Maybe the delivery guy ate it. Burritos are tempting. Either way, you could be waiting forever. No “sure thing” is guaranteed.

I learned those lessons well and, because of that, I’m able to enjoy the time I spend with my son today. Do some situations require more work than others? Sure. Are there some mornings where I do more before my morning pills and coffee than most people do all day? Absolutely. Do I love my kid despite that? More than anything in the world.

Yes. I’m patient. My son is lucky I am and he’s also the reason I am.  I never would have learned to be like this without him. He’s made me a better person, which is the exact person he deserves.



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