Its Fathers Day again, and for most dads, it will be a lovely reminder what it is to be a dad. Sometimes though, being a dad is a little bit more challenging than you thought it might have been.
It wasn’t really in the plan that Matthew & Daniel would have special needs. No parent thinks that as pregnancy progresses. But when it became evident that things “weren’t quite right” with Matthew, we started to face the possibility that he may have Additional Special Needs. The diagnosis process was soon underway, and we had (or rather Matthew did) have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Daniel soon followed, and was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome last year.
All the things I thought I’d be doing as a dad, well, they were largely out of the window. The boys aren’t “normal” or should I say neuro typical children. They have complex needs that require a lot of adjustment for me. I’ve learned that while it would be nice to have a cuddle with Matthew when he comes through in the morning, Matthew will only engage in physical contact on his terms, and will push you away otherwise. Initially, it was difficult to accept, but its not because he doesn’t love me, its more that he is uncomfortable with that kind of physical contact. I’m still learning that when he comes through in the night, and is screaming abuse at us, its not because he’s being horribly behaved. Its all down to his heightened level of anxiety and stress brought on by his “special brain.” His punching and kicking are automatic responses he can’t control, and I have to accept that.
Being dad to 2 boys on the autisim spectrum has meant I might not do a lot of the things dads of neuro typical boys might do. Most would expect that by 7 & 6 years old, they would be out playing with school friends after school and at the weekends. But both boys, although they have a VERY small circle of friends, they don’t really understand friendship and as a result are at home demanding (and they are demanding) attention non-stop. Being at home means they are craving attention. If I suggest they play with friends, they look at me as if I’m mad. Both boys compartmentalise their lives. Their classmates – they are seen at school. That is their place. Seeing them out of class is alien. Daniel will see his closest buddy in his class all day, play with him on the way home, but there will come a point where that part of the day – the transition from school to home – where that little person isn’t part of his world. And as soon as I get home, I am their world! That’s not being arrogant, its just how they see their world. Classmates are for school, home means dad.
In general, that means that when I am at home, I have to be with them all of the time. There’s none of the time where it might be expected that they amuse themselves, be it in front of the telly, on the Wii, playing with their toys. Any of those activities must be done with dad, if I am at home. Try and slip upstairs after teatime to catch Star Trek on the telly – within a minute or two, one or both of them will be up. Generally that will be the cue to get on the trampoline. Another activity where parents would expect they could leave their kids to play together. But for the boys, trampoline time means time with dad on the trampoline. They won’t go on otherwise. Its not that I really mind, as its great exercise, and it does present additional bonding time.
I had also hoped that when we had children, they would follow my passion that is Aberdeen Football Club. I’ve been a fan since the early 70s, and wouldn’t be without my season ticket. Daniel expressed an interest, but Matthew was a big no. The problem is the noise. Both boys have sensory issues, and loud noises confuse and scare them. Matthew just wouldn’t cope. Daniel has come with me a couple of times, and generally enjoyed it, although his constant movement means I need to keep a close eye on him. Still, they both love to please – its part of their ASDs I think that they try to do so. It has meant that Daniel has become a major fan of Star Wars. Like Matthew, he has an obsessive nature, and because he want’s excuses to be with me, he became obsessed with Star Wars (https://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/an-aspergers-star-wars-obsession/) – which I love. Its part of their need to be at the heart of our attention. Its time I really enjoy with the boys. Daniel loves it, and Matthew more tolerates it just to be part of the experience.
Its all something I’ve had to get used to. That and the to-ing and fro-ing to the school (the review meetings, the advocating, the fire-fighting), the doctors, the hospital, their favourite parks they NEED to go to to prevent meltdowns. Its all part of it. Keeping an eye on the meltdown triggers is a huge part of being an autism dad. When they are in meltdown, its difficult to keep your cool, and that’s something I’m still trying to learn to do. At the point where I get angry with them is just the point where they are coming off their meltdown high, and getting angry with them just perpetuates the meltdown. That kind of ability to keep calm while they explode – it still eludes me, but its important that I continue to learn so I’m more able to help them. Its learning coping strategies that become the norm – so much so that I sometimes don’t realise I’m doing anything different from any other dad. I am of course. But then, that’s just part of being an autism dad!
So, Happy Fathers Day to all you dads out there. Particularly those of you dealing with your little (or not so little) ASD boys and girls. Its a labour of love all right.