“He’s a text-book case of Asperger’s Syndrome.” The doctor had said this, so matter-of-fact, I made her repeat it.
When my son was three years old, his day-care had suggested he be evaluated. His mother and I were still together at the time, and we dutifully took our son to a developmental psychologist near the hospital he was born at in Albany. His day-care providers were claiming he was being aggressive with his peers. I had a hard time believing that my son was having the sorts of trouble being described. I hadn’t seen the same problems at home.
As a teacher, I had certainly seen enough I.E.P’s. (independent education plans) that I knew back then, vaguely, what Autism was. I had experience working with adolescents with developmental disabilities. Still, I had missed all the warning signs in my own son. I had a hard time believing it.
My son had hit all of his developmental milestones –more or less on time. At three, he had a large vocabulary for his age. He talked incessantly. A friend had had a son at the same time. When their son was diagnosed with Autism, it made sense. He wasn’t my kid, but also, he spoke little. He wasn’t sociable the way my toddler was. It didn’t make sense to me and in many ways it still does not. I had to learn to accept my son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I gradually had to accept something was wrong. I noticed the lack of eye-contact first. His diagnosis helped explain the irrational fears, and his aversion to certain noises was the next piece of the puzzle.
My son’s diagnosis also meant learning the difference between “co-taught” and “self-contained” classrooms. It meant a special needs pre-school, and going to meetings with special education teachers. I had to advocate for one-on-ones, and occupational therapists. I offered input on his I.E.P. goals. Fortunately, I have always lived in a large school district that had the means for the services that would help my son be successful in school. We are working at the behavioral parts of his I.E.P., that seems to be his biggest challenge. With the support from his teachers and aids, he makes small strides.
His schooling aside, I’m still puzzled and amused when he lines his toy cars in a row. These days it’s more often his “solar system”: the flash-cards for each planet that he lines up across the floor. He will talk at length about each of the planets –in order– and repeat the attributes of each planet, each weekend he is with me.
I have needed to be his advocate. A child like my son, on the spectrum, might otherwise be mainstreamed, sink-or-swim, because his disorder is mild. That has made it all the more important I be an advocate for him. Of course, mainstreaming is a long-term goal. I stay in frequent contact with his teachers and discuss his progress. I want to be sure he isn’t mainstreamed before he’s ready.
Being the father of a child on the spectrum wasn’t anything I had ever considered before my son was diagnosed. No dad does. He might be a “text-book case”, but few things with parenting a special needs kid really go by the book. The best advice I can give a dad who is facing a child’s recent diagnosis: learn as much as you can. Talk to your child’s teachers and other parents. Be patient with your child, and trust me they’ll try that patience, especially a child with an ASD. It was hard for me to accept at first. It can be overwhelming, and everyone has a different answer –from fad diets to hand-wringing over vaccines. I had to accept his diagnosis, before I could know what I needed to do.
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