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An Autism Dad Seizes the Day

By June 15, 2011

Awareness

by Matthew Echan


Again, I'm fooled. It's officially Autism Awareness Month, and seven years later, I'm still waking up with the hope that maybe the Autism will be gone today. Nope. I know it as soon as I hear him asking for some "ceweall." I pat him on the head and kiss his forehead. I just want him to know I love him. He doesn't really seem to care, but I've learned not to take it personally. He pushes me away and points downstairs. I squeeze him into the trash compactor and shake him until his smile pops out. "Now give daddy a real kiss." His eyes roll back into his head as he tilts back with pursed open lips.

I'm just happy he's talking now, and I smile as we proceed with the morning routine. Breakfast, Bathroom, Train Station. School. No different from any other morning. I show him again how to use his napkin to wipe his chin, again how to pull his head through the whole of his shirt, again how to brush his teeth and hair. Though we both teeter in and out of frustration, we are each more patient with the other than the previous day, and we high-five several times to that. I tell him I'm proud of him and give him another squeeze before we shove out the front door. He doesn't really seem to care, but I don't take it personally. This is progress.

Because my radiator has seen its day, we are forced to make the commute with the heater on full blast. Neither of us complain about it though. We just turn on "New Jerusalem," our new favorite album, roll down the windows and press on like today could be our last. I tilt the rear-view so I can watch him try to contain his excitement. Something about the wind against his face gets him all worked up. I swear he thinks he's a hummingbird, hovering completely still as the busy world swirls around him. I watch as people slow down to observe him as they pass by and I think about what it means to be normal. What would it be like to be inside Josiah's brain for one day? Then I slip off into some daydream where him and I are having some meaningful conversation about where we go when we die.

As we circle the fountain at Orange, Josiah clasps his hands together over his mouth, nervously pushing his thumbs against his teeth, his eyes the size of silver-dollars. The bell starts ringing, the red lights flash and the giant candy-canes lower. We wait for the train.

"I see tain," Josiah mumbles through his hands.

"I hear a train."

"Yeah. I hear tain."

We pull up just as the Surfliner whistles through the intersection. Josiah studies it nervously, and when it finally glides to a stop at the station, he pulls himself up by the passenger headrest for a better view. I stare into his big blue eyes, wondering if he remembers we did this yesterday, wondering if he will ever catch a train somewhere. Trying his best to contain his excitement, he looks over at me with his contagious smile and says, "I hear tain."

I'm just happy he's talking now. This is progress.

The closer we get to his school, the more he starts mumbling to himself. I watch him talk out the window and I can tell he's not happy about it. I can't make out everything, but his bottom lip is hanging low and he keeps repeating, "Yeah. After tool, you can play ba-ball, but you can go to tool."

"You want to play baseball?" I ask rhetorically.

His hands clasp together and his face lights up.

"Yeah," he says, like it should be obvious.

I pull into the school parking lot, turn around and look at him. He's pressing his hands against his teeth, hanging on my answer, entirely lost in the moment. It's no big deal to play hooky for one day, but I can't shake the notion that his future depends on it. If he doesn't learn his letters, shapes and colors, how will he ever learn to stop at a red light? Or differentiate between a men's and women's restroom? Or catch a train someday? On the other hand, I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to be in a relationship with someone who constantly pushes you to be different from what you are, and I want to connect with him somehow, let him know I love him. I wonder if I'm too aware of Autism, and if I've forgotten about my son. Does he have Autism, or does Autism have my son?

Josiah turns his attention to Alisa, a non-verbal 7-year-old that gets a rise out of hitting him throughout the day. She bounces from her mother's grasp through the front door.

"Awyssa," he says, watching the door close, his smile long gone.

"What do you say we go to Boomerz?" I ask, ready to seize the day.

"Boomerz!" he says, clapping, reminding me it's never too late to make a lasting connection.

"The rules work for us," I say, throwing the car into reverse, knowing that one day he'll understand.

This is progress.



Comments
June 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm
(1) Cathlene says:

Amazing!!! Truly an inspiring story! I’d like to read something like this everyday!

June 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm
(2) Diane Deese-Mozeleski says:

Beautiful!

June 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm
(3) Rebekah says:

Beautiful and peaceful, it truly tuggedd at my heart strings!

June 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm
(4) Dee says:

I agree. Poetic, real, lovely… Thank you!

June 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm
(5) Sandy says:

Another rocking dad with a great child! I hope you have a great Sunday!

June 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm
(6) Neela says:

You go Mr Matt, what a beautiful piece. I just wish more Dad’s would think like this about their boys and Autism. Keep insipring every family dealing with Autism.

June 15, 2011 at 11:59 pm
(7) Nate says:

Adam, it takes a strong man with a special ability to understand love as deeply as you have protrayed in this short story.

June 16, 2011 at 9:06 am
(8) Mike says:

Very touching, it’s great to read these essays from other dads who deal with Autism everyday. I can really relate to your commute. I have 2 kids on the spectrum and our drive is very similar. In my case, Alisa is my son’s little sister. She too gets a kick out of hitting him throughout the day.
Very nice to read, hope you have a great Sunday.

June 16, 2011 at 10:30 am
(9) Sandra Larsen says:

Wonderful story. Bless every aren’t who has a child who has any kind of problem.

June 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm
(10) Leila says:

Matthew, thank you for this beautiful essay. Josiah sounds like a very nice kid – and he has beautiful eyes! He’s lucky to have you and I’m sure he knows you love him, and he does care, even though he’s not into the typical displays of affection.

I’m wondering how the teachers and aides at the school allow that girl to consistently hit your child. There should be better supervision. If he’s really unhappy in that setting, is it possible to look for a new school in your area?

June 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm
(11) Chuck says:

Awesome Matt! Thank you for capturing a morning so vividly. I was there!

June 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm
(12) Brendan says:

For me, it wasn’t just about a Dad with a son who has autism. It was about a Dad’s love for his son, a son’s love for his dad.

June 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm
(13) Caroline Thompson says:

This is progress………you are exactly right. What one parent with a ‘typically developing child’ may take for granted, you do not. For those of us in the autism world, we see little moments like this everyday. Little moments that will go unknown to everyone that is not in the autism world. Moments like a reciprocal smile from your child or simply just a look from your child. Matt, you are an amazing father and I don’t think anyone could have captured that moment better than you. Josiah is going to continue to make progress because of you. For some reason, the Universe put you in his life and made you his dad. We need more parents like you. That will be progress.

June 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm
(14) Tessa a/k/a Mama Apples says:

This really made my heart smile. What a wonderful tribute to the relationship you have with your son, and a reminder to everyone who reads it of what is really important.

June 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm
(15) Pam says:

The heart of a father, so beautiful! What a lucky boy to have someone love him so much. Keep looking at the progess and KNOW you are making a difference in someone’s life!

God Bless!

June 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm
(16) dave k says:

Happy Father’s Day Matt. I know exactly what you’re dealing with and you put it into words beautifully. Good on you for seizing the day!

June 20, 2011 at 1:37 pm
(17) Linda Simonson says:

A great story. I was half expecting the ending to be different; however, I have been living and working with kids with autism for almost 40 yrs. and many of them would have been very upset with the change in routine. So Josiah really is doing well!

June 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm
(18) Jean says:

It’s so good to hear about life as a special needs parent from a dad’s perspective. Josiah sounds so gorgeous, and his dad’s love for him is abundantly clear XXX

July 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm
(19) Marcus says:

Matt/Siah,

Very awesome play by play. I will continue to tell you how jealous I am of your abilities! Sticking to the routine is hard and sometimes it hurts when you think letting them cheat will make them happy and it doesn’t. Really hope our paths cross again!

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