For Fathers Facing Autism

Disability Scoop is a very useful resource for individuals or families with disabilities.   Their recent interview with Christopher Gorham (a central character on USA Network’s Covert Affairs) raised three important questions for fathers.

Am I Afraid to Ask?

The courage, honesty and depth with which Mr. Gorham handled his son’s autism diagnosis, should provide encouragement to anyone concerned about their child’s developmental progress.   He describes his journey below.

Second grade was when we really knew we needed to start investigating and finding help. What we were doing didn’t seem to be working and things were getting worse and he was just getting further and further away from his peers. (He was) not understanding the subtleties of socializing, not getting sarcasm, not understanding the difference between someone who’s really being nice to you and someone who’s actually making fun of you, not understanding that all attention isn’t positive. It’s really hard for a parent when your son comes home and tells you that his best friends are the two or three kids who are actually the meanest to him.

The most important decision we had to make in having our own son evaluated for autism was not to be afraid.   We did this by placing our focus on the hope that would come from knowing what we were up against.

This hope proved real as we met parents with more experience and many answers.  We met teachers, therapists, and even students who helped us unlock doors that provided us with even more hope.  Reading about Mr. Gorham reminded me of the value that comes from not being afraid to ask, “Does my child have autism?”

Am I Afraid of Change?

Disability Scoop asked Mr. Gorham, “How has this new diagnosis changed your family’s day-to-day life?”   His answer was one to which any parent of a child with autism can relate.

You get the diagnosis and then instead of just taking the kids to Taekwondo after school, now suddenly you’ve got occupational therapy and you’ve got speech therapy and you’ve got the psychologist and you’ve got the behavioral specialist. Your week is filled with therapies to help support him and it becomes so hard to find the balance.

There is no doubt that the change can be difficult and painful, on the other hand it can become inspiring.   Once I adjusted to the fact that we wouldn’t be doing all the typical things families do, it became clear to me that I was going to have to become creative.   This is when I began working to develop programs like E-Soccer, which gave birth to E-Karate.  Change embraced will lead to creativity and innovation, and that will allow your family to thrive and help others.

Am I Afraid to Tell Others?

Sometimes we can be afraid to tell others our children have autism.  This reticence can come from any number of reasons.   Here are five.

  1. Denial: we are struggling to accept the diagnosis
  2. Embarrassment:  people will stare at, mock, or ridicule our child
  3. Fear of failure:  we won’t be able to handle it (emotions, finances)
  4. Fear of rejection:  family and friends won’t want to include us
  5. Fear of vulnerability:  we don’t like being so dependent on others

I have no idea what, if any obstacles, Christopher Gorham faced in telling others about the fact that his son was diagnosed with autism.  What encouraged me, and should encourage everyone, is his willingness to talk about it publicly.  When high profile personalities like him share their experiences it makes it easier for those who are trying to overcome their fears.

Disability Scoop asked him another question, “What made you decide to go public with your son’s diagnosis?”   His answer should serve as inspiration for us all.

I didn’t see the point in hiding it because it’s not something that we’re ashamed of. At the same time, I’m not going to make it the lead story about me and my family. I don’t plan on trotting him out in front of the cameras or having him talk about it or be the face of whatever. But I’m open to talking about my experience, what it’s like as a parent.

For every father facing an autism diagnosis, I wish you a happy Father’s Day, and much good fortune in your journey.  You can do it!

Here are some links to others sharing their own personal experiences and opinions on related topics.

Autism Denial – a post by Stuart Duncan (follow on twitter @autismfather)

Autism Speaks – information about diagnosing autism