You speak for many women in your situation. There is a profound loneliness that mothers experience after the diagnosis. I think it comes from the general trend that men have a hard time facing things they can’t fix. They feel powerless and inept when they can’t simply work harder to fix their child’s disability. Your husband probably feels more powerless than you do. The dynamic of a family with a child who has special needs tends to follow a pattern where the father focuses on the long-term problems such as the financial burden, while the mother responds more emotionally as she faces the burdens of the daily care of the child. By being less involved in the daily interaction with their children, fathers tend to have a somewhat longer period of denial about the disability and its implications. When men do express their feelings, they tend to show anger or frustration.
At Fathersnetwork.org, we read “The old myths are far flung -- and deeply held -- that men are hard driven, inexpressive, pragmatic creatures, devoid of strong emotions or the capacity to nurture, always more at home with work than with their families.” The numerous articles and photos on that web site shatter those stereotypes. You might want to print out some of the essays at that site written by fathers, many of whom have a child with autism.
Recently, a mother who I have been counseling firmly told her husband that if he really loved her the way he said he would come to a few sessions with her. She needed that from him and insisted. He came and was glad he did. He probably thought about autism as much as she did but kept it all inside. He was very expressive about what a great job she was doing, but simultaneously very discouraged about his son’s progress.
One father told me he never read anything about autism or went to any appointments until his wife had to go out of town for a weekend for a funeral. Left home with their child, he came to a realization of what her everyday life was really like, and he began to take a different attitude. He began to read and go to meetings.
These hints may help. Men are slower in this aspect of parenting a child with special needs, so don’t despair. I can certainly remember the lump in my throat when I just looked at reading materials about autism and couldn’t get past the first sentence. Let your husband know that you appreciate him and let him know what you need.
From Dr. Cindy Ariel:
Everyone deals with parenthood differently, and this difference may be even more pronounced in a family with a child who has special needs. It is very usual for one or both parents to become immersed in the world of autism after the diagnosis of a child. There is so much to learn and little time to waste in learning about our children and their needs.
Your husband’s supportiveness is a positive step and not getting as involved at this stage does not necessarily mean an unwillingness to do so. Your husband must come to terms with and get to know your son in his own way and at his own pace.
Encouragement and support for your husband to get more involved in your son’s life need not include any accusations at all. Keep your husband informed about your son and what you learn about him and his autism. Leave the information around for your husband to pick up and take a look at in his own time. Continue to encourage positive family interaction as much as possible.
You may feel somewhat resentful at times that you are the one doing all of the work here; and in fact this could go on for a long while. You may be more able than your husband to deal with your son’s diagnosis and all of the planning and involvement that goes along with it. If your husband has a particularly hard time accepting your son’s diagnosis then some counseling or therapy could be helpful. But first try to gently nudge him along and to talk to him about your feelings and his with regard to your son. Perhaps things can begin to move on from there. You can certainly let your husband know how his seeming lack of involvement or interest makes you feel; but no accusations.