Dr. Robert Naseef has practiced for over 20 years as a psychologist. He is a graduate of Temple University. He specializes in families of children with disabilities and has published several articles on the subject, including the book Special Children, Challenged Parents: The Struggles and Rewards of Raising a Child with a Disability. He co-edited Voices from the Spectrum (2006) with Dr. Ariel. Dr. Naseef presents locally and nationally on issues related to family life with special needs and has a special interest in the psychology of men. Dr. Naseef has contributed a number of articles to this site; scroll down to find links!
"I am just so angry." With his voice shaking, he said what other men in the circle were thinking and feeling. "When I get home and approach my son, he pushes me away. I can't stand it anymore. He just wants his mother, and he pushes me away from her too. The other day I told my wife I am ready to sign my parental rights away."
Alex loves his son, but it's the autism this man hates and the way it makes connecting seem impossible. The occasion for this fathers (and male therapists) group meeting on April 15 was the opening of the Autism Resource Center by the Ontario Arc in Canandaigua, New York where I was their guest speaker.
Everywhere I have traveled this year speaking to groups of parents about taking care of everyone's needs, fathers have turned out in significant numbers. They come to listen and talk about what they can do.
Once the anger was outed, the whole group of men seemed to open up. Inside the shell of anger, the men found fear, sadness, guilt, and sometimes shame for how they had been acting. Their honesty with each other opened the door to possibilities for connecting with their children--and their wives whose feelings are quite similar. The man who started the discussion didn't come to disown his son-- he came to find out what he could do.
Another man talked about how getting on the floor with his son and just tickling opened the door to the possibilities of playing together. Others shared what they could do with their children and how to follow their child's lead, and those still at a loss got ideas and inspiration. They planned to meet again.
After my presentation the next day, Jen approached me to say that her husband, Alex, came home determined to find ways of connecting with their son. Maybe now she could get some breaks. She was so grateful there was now a fathers' group planning to meet again in their town.
Of course, these parents will wake up the next day and their children will still have autism. Their feelings will come and go. But perhaps the best medicine is learning how to connect one on one and having some fun. This is a route that can sustain a family through the inevitable ups and downs and uncertain future that autism brings.
More Insights from Dr. Robert Naseef
- Coping with the Stress of Autism: When to Find Professional Help
- Helping Dads Get Involved with Their Autistic Children
- How Can a Family with an Autistic Child Find Support and Friends?
- How Do I Get the Support I Need from My Family?