Autism: Through the eyes of a Dad
World Autism Awareness Day, on the 2nd April 2021, is an opportunity to raise understanding and share experiences.
World Autism Awareness Day, on the 2nd April 2021, is an opportunity to raise understanding and share experiences. I am both a father of an autistic child and someone who has worked in the field of autism for many years. I first supported autistic individuals approximately sixteen years ago. A few years later I trained as an Assistant Practitioner specialising in Autism this included studying an Understanding Autism module as part of a degree. Now I am a father of a young boy who was diagnosed as autistic just over two years ago. There are approximately 127,000 children in the UK who also have a diagnosis of autism. That is approximately 1 in 100 UK children.
Autism is described as a neurological condition that impairs social communication, social interaction and social imagination commonly referred to as the triad of impairments. But it is much more than a diagnosis. It can form part of someone’s identity. It can create many barriers to social opportunities. Opportunities that up until recently we have all been able to take for granted.
I understood my son had differences. This was evident from his challenges in forming friendships with his peers. He also had delayed speech and struggles to make his needs known in ways that would typically be understood. He, like many others who are autistic also has sensory differences. He can find light touch painful, certain noises intolerable and is easily distracted by stimuli in his environment. As a father this can be a great source of stress. It is emotionally painful to see your child excluded from a social activity when everyone else is invited. Forging friendships is something that is generally common for a child who is neurotypical and taken for granted. I experience great joy and gratitude when my son forms a friendship, and it is mutual.
Strangely, one of the biggest challenges is academically my son is close to achieving the expected standards. This means some of his other differences can at times be overlooked or not given the attention they deserve. We work very closely with school to try and ensure all his needs are met. I found the SEND Code of Practice a very helpful resource to ensure I knew school were meeting my son’s needs in accordance with legislation and good practice. This also armed me with the knowledge I needed to intervene and arrange meetings with school where I felt it was appropriate. I have found that the more I have learnt about education the more confidence I have to challenge school.
There are many misconceptions I hear about autism as a parent. This can be a cause of stress and anxiety for both me and my wife. Autism is a spectrum, and this can often be forgotten. I have been asked if my son has a specialist skill as people make comparisons to Rain Man. It is important to remember that each autistic person has their own unique differences. You cannot draw comparisons or jump to conclusions. There are others close to us who think because of autism my son is unable to care about others. This is the most upsetting misconception. Although my son does not express feelings in a typically recognised manner, he does express them. This causes the most upset not simply because it shows a lack of understanding of autism but also because people do not understand him.
Despite the challenges there is support available for parents and children. There are lots of resources at the National Autistic Society. However it is local charities that we have found most supportive. They provide an opportunity to talk with other parents who have similar experiences. My son can socialise with other children and be himself without judgement. Before the pandemic took hold, I played football with dads and other autistic children at a local leisure centre. This was also a great source of support for both me and my son.
As a parent the saying “I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you” resonates with me. I appreciate World Autism Awareness Day however as a society I feel we must be aware of autism every day. As neurotypicals we have the flexibility to change and adapt to the needs of an autistic person. However too often we expect the autistic person to adapt to us.
The more we all learn about autism the more we can empathise and improve the world for autistic people – World Autism Awareness Day provides the perfect opportunity to learn about autism, read about personal experiences and positively change the world we live in.
Quality Manager, Bluebird Care
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