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Dr. Robert Naseef on Autism and Dads

By April 19, 2011

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

In the Forum: Talk About Life as an Autism Dad

April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm
(1) Sandy says:

I actually don’t recall a topic like this in the past and what a good one. I can sort of understand, but on the other end. It’s exhausting when your child only wants one parent for their needs and for me, I never get that emotional affection feed back from my son at all. It was so bad at one time, my husband couldn’t be in the same room during home work, and my husband is better with that subject than I am. If my husband started work late and was part of our morning routine, it was never pretty. My son was truly rigid and dependent upon me and it was totally exhausting for me that a simple drink of water had to be given only by me. My poor husband always got the bad end. School functions, my son loudly made it known his daddy couldn’t come. It was hard to put a dent in his being so rigid. And not getting that affection back, it was hard not to feel you were a parent only on the child’s demand. The dog got more affection than I ever did for years. In order to break into that rigid, when it was time for homework, my husband first started being in the living room and we endured the meltdown which made hubby even feel worse. When a drink needed to be poured, if he wanted it he had to ask and accept it from his daddy. And we endured the meltdown. I played deathly sick at times, so my child had to ask his daddy for his daily needs. I don’t hate autism for these things, speaking for myself. I had to find my joys in other places, make opportunities for my husband and make sure we stuck to it.

April 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(2) Twyla says:

I read Robert Naseef’s book “Special Children, Challenged Parents”, and it was wonderful. I really appreciate how he talks about the stresses of parenthood. He speaks from a lot of experience! as both father and therapist.

April 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm
(3) Dadvocate says:

This sounds like sensible advice. When my son was growing up, finding activities like exercise via swimming and walking proved to be good environments to connect in. Reading books to him also proved to provide a basis for ongoing communication.

April 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm
(4) barbaraj says:

I “got” a surprise last night..”daddy and son ( asd)..together watched “tangled” and loved it..who would have guessed? Another surprise, my six year old bought a book at the “book fair”..(he’s the one with articulation issues)..he read it so beautifully and clearly..I learned something..while reading..he sounded much like a narrator, clear and expressive..something that normally is missing in his general communication. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know , I knew he read well,that shows in his classwork, yet I didn’t know he was talented as a story book reader. I have to figure out how to get the reader voice into the conversational one?( next project)
Daddy’s are fun always with activities that require testosterone..but that “Tangled” moment was so special.

April 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm
(5) autism says:

Barbara – what a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing.


April 26, 2011 at 1:04 am
(6) Jessie says:

I am a dad of a 19 year old autistic son and a 14 year old. My exwife left me when my oldest was 5 and the youngest was newborn, she told her lawyer that my oldest son was one of the main reasons she left. That was what made me angry, I have raised my oldest since well before she left and I have enjoyed every minute of it. He graduated from high school last year with a B+ (3.6) average. He also enjoys special olympics as I do, since i coach several sports. That and 6 flags are our connection with each other.

April 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm
(7) Debra says:

What a wonderful story Jesse. You have a LOT to be proud of. And Barbara, isn’t it great when you get ‘surprised’?

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