« Parenting

Off the Beaten Path or How Autism Can Take You on an Unexpected and Interesting Journey

by Brad Ludwig

"The Expectant Father " is the book all 'soon to be Fathers' receive. Giving sage wisdom, passed through the ages on how this whole 'being a Dad thing' is going to work. It gets you prepared for everything right up to how to play with the baby, after it has been born.

By Terryjoyce (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons  

I remember receiving my copy and thinking that here were the answers to my questions. I was really scared of being a horrible father, towards the end of my ex-wife's pregnancy. It was a bit of welcomed comfort to know that the answers to my questions were wonderfully indexed in this magic tome of wisdom. I learned a bit from the book:

  • What my ex-wife was going through
  • What I could do to help
  • How to tell others you are expecting
  • How the financial situation was going to change
  • and much more

After that, there are countless books that will walk you through the process and help light your way through the mysterious journey of fatherhood. You start to have the development milestones laid out for you at this point.

His development wasn't matching up to my books of fatherhood wisdom, at all. He was supposed to have been saying some words by the age of 18 months. He didn't crawl. He scooted on his rear. Then one day he was pulling himself up and was walking.
We were being told that every child develops at a different rate, by our parents, by our doctor and by our friends. That some things might seem out of 'sequence'. They were right. Not every child hits the mile markers at the same time as everyone else. That said, my ex-wife and I felt that there was something up with Alex. It was a feeling we had in our guts. It's an instinct that only a parent can have for their own child. It's not something you can put into words, it just IS.

We began the uncharted journey when Alex was 2½, from our doctor, about the Marathon County Birth to 3 program. After some basic testing, they recommended us to the Autism Clinic at Marshfield Clinic. They helped us to change the mindset that is drilled into EVERY parent, looking for milestones. This was INCREDIBLY hard to wrap our heads around.

It’s like this. One of the biggest complaints about magazines, like Cosmo, is that it describes unreasonable expectations of what your life should be. It literally tells you that you are doing most everything wrong. You are wearing the wrong clothes, you have the wrong job, you are with the wrong person...  A lot of groups, rightfully, point to this as to reasons why people feel like they are failing at life.

We get messages like this, when we become parents. Magazines, books, people and a host of other people are full of ‘helpful’ information on how raising a child is supposed to be. Now, imagine you raising a child that has issues processing the world around them. They aren’t reaching the established goals and milestones that ‘every’ child achieves. You begin to feel that you’ve failed at raising your child. This is a dark path. No one is to ‘blame’. Your child is fine, you are fine. The textbook life that you feel society promised you, was not right. It almost fosters the thoughts that there aren’t people in this world who are ‘wired’ differently. You need to move past that. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed, especially just after getting the Autism diagnosis. Like I said in my first post, you are not alone. 1 in 88 children, in the United States, are on the Autism spectrum. That means hundreds of families are out there, finding their way, just like you.

By Pem Dorjee Sherpa (Pem Dorjee Sherpa) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Parents of children on the Autism spectrum are bold explorers, each setting out on their own adventure, with no map to guide them. Every child is different and moves along at their own pace. Your job becomes that of a Sherpa, guiding your charge up the mountain, finding new and often inventive ways of overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you, so you can reach your destination. With Autistics, even little detours, can become anxiety ridden, white knuckle flights of terror... or you are surprised with the ease at which they deal with the change.

You may find it helpful to join a local Autism support group. Your fellow ‘adventurers’ can give sage wisdom of the journeys they have taken and give you solid information on what they learned from their experiences.

One of the best books, I can recommend for Autistic parents, is “The Out-of-Sync Child”. It’s a great guide book that covers a number of different sensory processing issues and ways to overcome them.

It’s easy to feel lost, when you don’t have milestones to help guide your way. There are guides who can help your through the occasional bits of wilderness you’ll encounter along the way. It’s okay to stop and ask someone for directions.