In a previous post, I wrote about my neglect in reading parenting books. Since then, I have atoned, but my reading list has become rather focused as I plow through titles such as Children with High Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide, The Autism Sourcebook and Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love From His Extraordinary Son.
Eight months ago, our son turned three. The warning signs were disparate and insidious. Many behaviors were perfectly typical for a boy that age: repetitive activity, lining up toys, slower than his sister in learning to talk, fascinated more with objects than people, not acknowledging when we called his name. These characteristics were combined with glimpses of incredible brilliance: memorizing the alphabet, quickly solving puzzles, doing basic math, and reading words he had never seen before.
His atypical behavior came into stark relief, however, when we put him in school. He isolated himself from peers by hiding under desks and chairs. His seemingly willful disobedience was something far worse: he was oblivious to what his parents and teachers wanted him to do. Crowds and loud noises quickly over stimulated him. We realized that his repetitive behaviors and obsession with numbers and letters were a way to seek refuge from chaos. And so our research began. Books, articles, and discussions with friends gave credence to our suspicions. The more we learned, the more we recognized other signs that we had shrugged off as “quirkiness”.
But we have also noticed behaviors that are simply who he is: his tremendous empathy when one of his siblings cries, his affectionate bear hugs, and his skill in navigating the Ipad. As frustrating as he can be sometimes, his atypical personality and thought processes will be significant assets to him, and I would not want my son to be anyone else. Our job as parents is to help him alleviate his current frustrations and anxiety by learning to communicate effectively and to cope with the chaos comes with being part of society.
I am grateful for many things: our son got an early diagnosis, he is making great progress through various therapies, and he has a mother who has demonstrated unflagging optimism, patience and resolve in the face of this challenge. My wife, by expertly achieving the precious balance of accepting our son for who he is and yet tackling his autism head-on, has taught me a great deal about parenting, love, and leadership.