Dale is a loving, dedicated Autism Dad who was kind enough to share his lived experience with us and how his son, Ethan changed his life for the better. Thanks, Dale!
Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down.
I think most special needs parents can relate to that famous lyric. Becoming a parent drastically changes your life, but then finding out all your kids have special needs flips everything on its head.
It was devastating at first, to say the least. Everyone in my family, myself included, got life-changing diagnoses within six months of each other.
But then I started watching Ethan, who has autism with severe speech apraxia, begin to learn how to stand on his head. This wasn’t a surprise as his gross motor skills rival typical kids twice his age. I enrolled him in gymnastics when he was just two years old, and he has thrived ever since, but there was something about him standing on his head that fascinated me.
It seemed to regulate him. It appeared to ground him and reset his body, but that’s not all—it gave him a new perspective on what he was dealing with at that moment.
Before Ethan was diagnosed with Autism, I had a preconceived, misinformed idea of what autism was. It wasn’t until I “stood on my head” that I saw things differently. Sure, Ethan has some struggles and weaknesses that we are working on, but he also has some incredible strengths — like standing on his head.
Autism has changed my perspective on life. Nothing is typical anymore, including days like Father’s Day. But that doesn’t ruin it for me, Ethan has just taught me to stand on my head and approach it from a different angle.
“Daddy, what needs fixing?” is what I think Ethan said as he dropped to the floor and opened his toolbox in front of me.
Imaginative play has erupted recently in my house, so when our behavioural consultants left some costumes and a toy toolbox at our home, things got real, very quickly.
The fridge was measured, the dishwasher was hammered, the oven had some screws loose, and the wrench came out for the pipes under the sink.
All the while, I was still thinking of the initial question. “Daddy, what needs fixing?” Just an innocent question from a three-year-old with no concept of ironic deeper meaning. No concept of the state of the world surrounding him.
I looked around the room at our broken family, each one of us trying desperately to survive in our own ways. I thought to myself; I need to be fixed…we ALL need to be fixed, but how? Where do you begin?
Well, Ethan had it figured out. You grab your toolbox. See, we’re all broken in one way or another; some just hold the pieces together better. Seemingly men have a harder time accepting this. We think we can fix it on our own or that there is nothing wrong, to begin with.
But at the end of the day, I’ve learned that the secret to surviving as a special needs parent is in the tools you keep in your toolbox. That’s where support from organizations like AutismBC comes in. They are parents just like me who understand the struggles I’m faced with and can provide the resources to help me fix the problems.
He asked again, “Daddy, what needs fixing?” As a tear rolled down my cheek, I quietly said, “everything… everything needs fixing, Ethan.” He looked up at me, and with a sparkle in his eye and a grin on his face, he excitedly said, “Okay, Daddy… I fix!” as he grabbed his toolbox and ran down the hall.
The Perfect Father’s Day Gift
What do you get Dad for Father’s Day? Finding that perfect gift is always a daunting task. I know this to be true because I don’t even know what the perfect gift is—and I’m a Dad!
In my home, my kids know special days like Christmas, birthdays, and Mother’s/Father’s Day to be synonymous with gift-giving. However, there is a greater expectation attached to those days as well. See, while my kids love giving presents, it’s my PRESENCE that they look forward to more.
Our family has an insanely busy schedule. On top of the normal household chores, we have up to six therapists, coming in and out of our home everyday and an average of 17 appointments scheduled in a “typical” week. Sadly, my kids have already learned that I don’t have a lot of time to drop everything and focus on each of them individually.
But on special days, I do. We cancel therapy sessions, ignore chores, turn off phones, and the day becomes a blank slate. Even though all my kids are preschool age, each with unique needs, they understand and insist to surround me with my favourite things.
That may mean buying me a special bottle of Coca-Cola to drink while playing a board game together, or wearing a new pair of fun socks while playing outside or ordering takeout from my favourite restaurant.
It’s never the item or the present that is the centerpiece; it’s the fact that I’m present and using the gift in a way that includes everyone.
For Ethan, often special days like this quickly become overwhelming, and he panics because he doesn’t want to miss out on anything. It’s in those moments that my presence means the most to him. As I console him and ground him from autistic sensory overload, he will often fall asleep on my chest as if to ensure I don’t leave—that I stay present.
It’s because of moments like that I’ve learned how important being present for my kids truly is, and embracing that is far more meaningful than any Father’s Day present I may receive.” Happy Father’s Day!