Autism / Parenthood

Entering a journey with an autistic child

I am sure I was no different than any other father the day my son was born.

He was beautiful and healthy, just a bundle of joy. I remember holding him for the first time and falling instantly in love. As I showed him off to a waiting room full of family, I felt overwhelmed with happiness, hope, and a great sense of pride.

As new parents, we were quick to talk about what a wonderful little boy he was. We couldn’t wait until he could crawl, and walk, and talk. He showed so much intelligence that we knew the sky was the limit for his potential and success. Will he be a doctor? Maybe he’ll make it to the big leagues? Maybe both?

Like most parents, I never dreamed that our questions would change to more troubling concerns. Jordan was always tall and heavy for his age. He was never chubby but he was solid to the brink of muscular. We were told that he was a little bit delayed in learning to crawl but not to worry, it is because he’s so big. Besides, he’s a boy and boys usually take longer. Eventually he crawled.

The same reasons were given for his delay in walking. He’ll walk when he’s ready, besides he’s a boy. Sure enough, eventually he walked.

When Jordan turned two, he still would not talk. Don’t worry, he’s a boy and boys always take longer. He will talk when he’s ready. Over a year later, Jordan was a boy still not ready to talk.

Jordan was a boy ready for autism.

We weren’t.

Autism was a scary word to my wife and I. How could our son be autistic when he seems so intelligent? He laughs and has a great sense of humour. He loves to run and play and has great motor skills. There is no way he’s autistic … boys just take longer to develop, right?

Then autism became an even scarier word. Why is Jordan fascinated with turning lights on and off? Why is he biting his toys and himself? Why do his temper tantrums come out of nowhere and end up in 45-minute emotional meltdowns? Why does our son play by himself in a room full of children? What did we do wrong?

What can we do to help him?

As parents we had done nothing to cause this. The truth is, one out of 75 children is on the autism spectrum and we quickly learned of the guilt, the stress, and the helplessness felt by thousands of other parents. Although we considered ourselves lucky that Jordan will fall into the “high functioning” end of the autism spectrum, we needed more than just a label. We needed help.

Since January 2011, with the aid of Trellis Mental Health and Developmental Services and the doctor, he has been placed on waiting lists for a pediatrician, Wee-Talk speech therapy, KidsAbility, specialized daycare, and more. We have hired a speech pathologist and most recently an occupational therapist to help him along and to help take away the feeling of helplessness while we wait.

The problem is that the waiting lists for these services are enormous. There are incredible services at the tips of our fingers, yet with the overwhelming demand, many families cannot reach this support for months and months. It took a full year to get Jordan into the Wee-Talk program, but what a marvellous difference it is making already. We are currently waiting for KidsAbility, another incredible program with caring specialized professionals that needs more support and recognition, and government funding to help reduce the wait time for the many children in need.

As frustrating as it has been, waiting for answers and waiting for the help he needs, I look at Jordan and can’t help but wonder how frustrated he must feel at times. I worry of the struggles he will face and if he will overcome those challenges. I wonder if he will ever perform surgery or pitch in the World Series.

I still remember the first time I held Jordan and how I fell instantly in love with him. He is still my little bundle of joy. And now as Jordan runs buck naked through the house — with his mother three steps behind — and his laughter is echoing through the hall, I can’t help but become overwhelmed with happiness, hope, and most of all … pride.

 

Published in the Guelph Mercury on March 16, 2012

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