Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Step 3: A Dad's Perspective

My wife wanted to do a blog just about how autism affects our family for Autism Awareness Month.  She wanted my perspective and so asked me to answer the question, "What was it like to have a son diagnosed with autism?"

Well… I remember going to the doctor for regular checkups as every proud parent does with their children. I recall the doctor checking Brandon a bit closer on a couple visits and then just like that… we were handed, “Your son has Autism”.  It was very brief with little information, not even a shiny pamphlet to describe it with pictures and places to contact or what to expect as they do with about everything else.

As a father I was certainly concerned but he seemed fine to me, fun loving, laughing, playing just like a boy, starting to say words...and so the initial diagnosis was not super traumatic as I had no idea.

Life was about to change forever. 

Soon our son was banging his head on the wall often.  Very often.  He would scream unexplainably.   He was suddenly scared of many things. Putting him in the car was like giving a cat a bath. He would hang around my neck for dear life as I bent cautiously into the back seat of the van with him attached. I had to peel him off me like a leach on a Vietnam soldier just to get him in the car seat. Once buckled in the seat belt he would scream non-stop until we took him out.  With parents living 2.5 hours away at that time, we soon gave up trying to visit them.  Our nerves simply could not take that.  If family wanted to see us, they would have to come to us.  We could no longer drive to them. That was a pretty defining moment of how autism would affect us considering all our family lived out of state.  I remember a time arriving at church after such a screaming car ride, I stepped out of the van in the parking lot and said to my wife, "If anyone says 'Good Morning' to me, I might have to punch them in the face."  I think that's when we first started to use humor as a coping mechanism.

All of that is how I realized that life had changed and how it was like being thrown in the middle of the ocean at the peak of darkness as the storms were on the horizon. As a man, I shrugged it off and said we will handle this, we will fix this, whatever it takes. I’m not scared. 

But we were in the storm either way.

In hindsight at the doctor’s visit, it was as non-nonchalant as the meter man saying as he checks your water meter, “You know I noticed that the foundation of your house is sinking”.   Where you just as equally nonchalantly think, "Hmmm, I've lived here for many years with no issues. Not sure how worried I am about that."

Well shortly after you indeed see for yourself that the foundation is cracking and water is spewing everywhere and things are falling off the walls, --- you realize that this is no quick fix.  That you need a fortune to shore up the problem.  You fix the immediate damage with no guarantees that it will work.

I’m hoping the doctors these days are helping guide families more.  I hope that instead of just being the “meter man” casually mentioning an issue -- they're fully informing parents of all the treatment options (whether they believe in them or not) thus giving them a fully equipped tool box to start with.

I sure wish we had that.

by Todd Guppy