The thunderbolt of autism hit this family. Devastated by the diagnosis, they tried to get all the help that they could. They had heard about children ‘recovering’ from autism. But their little boy was still not speaking at age 6. Daily taunts from in-laws added to the young mother’s woes. She had zilch support from her husband.
The family decided that she and the child should move to Bangalore, since it is considered to be the ‘hub’ of autism services. The father could not move as he had the shop to take care of. After all, he was supporting his wife and son financially!
The responsibility of running the house and looking after her son fell on the mothers’s young shoulders. Her parents visited occasionally. That was the only support she had. Her husband called her every night to take a report on the child’s progress. He wanted her to recount all the happenings of the day.
Seeing no progress, he gave her an ultimatum. “There’s no need for you to come back. I’ve supported you enough. It’s your fault anyway.”
I wish this story was fictional. I was as horrified and furious when I heard it. How could anybody do this to his wife and his innocent child!
I moved like a zombie for the rest of the day.
The terrible mood followed me home. Anil, cool as a cucumber, heard me out without saying a word. The barrage of expletives about the father didn’t shock him.
Once I had it off my chest, he calmly said, “there may be another side to this.”
“You just don’t get this!” I said, walking away in a huff!
However, by the next morning, after a restful sleep, I was able to distance myself from the situation. Time to put the thinking cap on.
When something is too painful, we flee from it. The combination of pain and helplessness is awful.
Yes, this father’s response was extreme. But there are other signs which might appear normal that are terrible for the family as well. Extremely long hours at work, excessive smoking or drinking, illicit relationships… these are also signs of denial.
Autism opens up this Pandora’s box of reactions.
Thankfully everything is not bleak and grey.
I work with some of the most wonderful, compassionate dads in our Family Consultation Program. They have chosen to be proactive. And their proactivity has ensured that not only the child, but the whole family stays happy.
Here’s how they operate.
1. They support their wives
It’s a myth that autism is caused by mothers. It can affect anyone, anywhere. These dads stand up for their wives. They support them emotionally too.
Mohit was diagnosed 23 years ago. Anil stood by me like a rock! He held fort at home, while I travelled to attend trainings and workshops.
I would be exhausted after trainings and meetings with Mohit’s therapists. Anil would take Tanya out and treat her to her favorite chocolate pudding to ensure that she didn’t feel left out!
Without his support and care, I would not be able to achieve what I have.
2. They take care of themselves
They ensure that they’re physically fit. Some of them are marathon runners. Anil does yoga and also participates in laughter therapy sessions.
They take time out for themselves. ‘Me time’ is essential and so is emotional well being, even for dads. It’s important to strengthen the inner self. They don’t hesitate to take professional guidance from counselors if needed.
I truly hope that social stigma soon becomes a thing of the past!
3. They educate themselves
ASD is complex and affects each child differently.
These dads are plugged in to their child’s needs. They attend meetings, conferences and workshops. They want to make a difference to their child’s life.
4. They spend time with their children
‘What if’ is a powerful trick which the mind uses to keep you stuck in the past. Just like us, these dads sometimes encounter it too. But they also keep their eyes on the positives.
And yes, they do the ‘dad’ things with their kids. Playing cricket and squash are favorites. Biking, swimming, gaming are some other activities which they do together.