Saturday, May 23, 2015

Message to a Non-Default Spouse

Me, working on my computer and neglecting the children
It has recently come to my attention that not all autism dads are as awesome as I am.

Okay, that needed a sarcasm font. I make as many parenting mistakes as anyone else.  But I'm here, I'm engaged and doing my best. And, unfortunately, from what I hear from many of the autism moms I know, there are a lot of autism dads out there who need to up their game a bit.

So here's my message to those dads, one guy to another.

  • It's not mom's fault.  Real talk: she didn't baby him too much. He doesn't just need more discipline.  Yelling at a kid who is already freaking out is just going to make things worse. This is a neurological disorder, not something you can discipline away. 
  • Read up on it.  Autism is a complicated disorder, potentially affecting almost every aspect of your child's behavior. The more you can learn about autism, the better you will understand the reasons for your child's behavior, allowing you to parent from a place of understanding and compassion, rather than fear and denial.
  • Understand the therapies.  Perhaps the biggest frustration I hear from moms is that dads "aren't on board" with various treatments and therapies. Sometimes it's due to misunderstanding, sometimes a case of denial. There's no excuse: get informed and figure out what you can do to help. Don't just be an obstacle because you're scared. If you have real objections, you owe it to your kid to verbalize them in a non-confrontational way.
  • Confront your prejudice.  Everyone in our society has prejudices. That includes you. For people with kids like ours, getting over our hang-ups about ridiculous societal norms is our entire job. It still annoys me a little when someone stares at my kid for flapping with excitement, but I'm not embarrassed of him. I'm embarrassed for them. Because the "no happy flaps" rule is dumb. We should all be so lucky that we get that excited.
  • Give your spouse a break.  Hahahaha. Just kidding! You can't handle the kid on your own! Oh wait, yes you can. Let her get out of the house on her own every once in a while. If that means screen-time for everyone, that's what it means. The kid will be fine. So will you.
  • Grieve after the kids are asleep.  A lot of parents feel the need to mourn the loss of their "expected" life. Maybe you wanted a kid who would grow up to be a star soccer player, throw a 95 mph heater, or, hell, just play catch with you. I get it. Take all the time you need. But not while they're awake. When they're around, your job is to be an awesome parent, whatever that means to them. If that means you're the dedicated YouTube video finder, awesome. If that means you help build the train tracks, do that. Don't know what to do? Ask mom - I bet she does.
  • Frustration is allowed.  Every parent gets frustrated, both with their child and their partner. One thing I have seen a lot in my own house since the diagnosis is misplaced frustration. The wife or I gets pissed about the kid's behavior, but it gets misdirected at our partner.  If you see yourself doing this - own it.  If you see your spouse doing it, talk about it (gently, and after they've calmed down). The fear and anxiety of a new diagnosis can make anyone extra touchy. If this is a problem, talk about it and figure out strategies that will help everyone.
  • Plan for the worst.  Parenting is a million times better as a team. We all have moments where we are sure we are about to lose it. I strongly suggest that you have a plan in place for when one of you needs to "tag" out of a situation where your emotions are spiraling and the kid is about to suffer the consequences.
  • Communicate communicate communicate.  If I'd just put this first, I wouldn't have had to write the rest of the post.  I know it's hard - I hate talking, too, but you must get on the same page about, at a minimum: 1) general parenting philosophy, 2) discipline, 3) treatments and therapies, and 4) division of non-parenting responsibilities.  
  • Make time for each other. This is hard, but important. Do it. As often, and in as many positions as you can.

If you can do all of this, well, you're a better man than me, certainly.  If you can do most of it, you're probably an awesome autism spouse.  Go forth and help out.  You can do this!

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