Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Father's Perspective

A while back dh was interviewed for Special Needs Neighborhood on his thoughts on raising autistic children. At the time of this interview, our twins were 7 and our youngest son was 3 1/2 years old.

In an effort to keep a record of the interview (trying to keep everything in one place), I'm posting it here (and backdating it), with minor edits to the introduction.


Dh is a stay-at-home Dad to our three boys, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. He has a degree in teaching and coaching. We decided before having children that we didn’t want to put our children in day care and that one of us would be a full time parent. When the time came, we decided that he would leave his job to stay at home full time.

Below is the interview with dh's answers, and I chimed in with my thoughts on some of the questions too (my comments were also included in the original interview). :)

Question: What’s it like to be a stay-at-home Dad? Do you have a network like most moms do?

Dad: I think being a SAHD (stay-at-home Dad) has been a very rewarding experience because it has given me the opportunity to be able to spend a lot of time with my kids. I enjoy helping my boys with their homework and seeing them getting excellent grades. It has given me the chance to guide them and communicate with them a lot more. There are tough days but you just stay motivated and understand that what you’re doing is more important than yourself.

Where we used to live there were a lot more SAHDs so there was more of a support network at least in the area that we lived. Where we live now, it has been more difficult because the SAHDs are more spread out and to go to those play days would require a lot of travel. I would imagine if SAHDs numbers increased you would see a stronger support system but I think we’re still in our infancy.

Question: Do you find it isolating caring for children with special needs and being a Dad?

Dad: I think like SAHMs (stay-at-home Moms), SAHDs are not immune to feelings of isolation and depression, especially in the beginning. There are two halves of the equation: the first is, takes time to adjust and implement a plan. I believe if you plan your day and set goals for you and your kids then you’ll feel much better where you are and what lies ahead. The other half of the equation is, don’t be afraid to go out in public. If you choose to stay home then the odds of feeling alone increases. I’m not saying it’s easy, and in reality it’s pretty nuts but I learned a lot by doing it. The more I went out the more my kids got used to the different environments, which made it less stressful for them. I just made sure that I didn’t make more than two stops a day. The question you’re asking yourself is . . . did your kids go crazy? The answer is most definitely. I just went during times when there weren’t a lot of people and prayed they were going to have a good day. I look back now and laugh but those were some tough times.

Mom: I just want to add that I think this is one area where my husband has really made a huge impact on our boys’ progress. For a long time, they were extremely hyperactive and prone to frequent meltdowns and/or running off in different directions. I managed okay, and I’m not saying it was easy for him, but when it came to carrying two kicking, screaming toddlers at the same time (the inevitable result of said meltdowns), he was better at that. He was also determined to keep taking them out despite the challenges because how else were they going to have a chance to practice appropriate behavior and eventually be able to tolerate different environments? I’m not sure I would have been as persistent about going out (I’m kind of a homebody as it is) but his diligence has most definitely paid off.

Question: What are some of your triumphs that you are proud of with your kids?

Dad: The first one that comes to mind is that my kids make excellent grades and I credit that to planning my day. I used to work with my kids on something academically M-F at least two hours a day. I always tried to keep them a grade ahead so they wouldn’t have to worry about academics as much during school so they could focus more on communicating and it definitely worked. It gave them the opportunity to help other students in class, which really helped with self-esteem. I think some good friendships came out of those experiences.

Another triumph is that it has helped us be a close family. We spend a lot of time together as a family and enjoy playing games or just going on short trips. We are still limited on where we can go but every year we take another step forward. This experience has humbled all of us but I think that is a good thing.

Question: What is a typical day like in your house?

Dad: It’s much easier than it was when my twins were younger, those days are still a blur and it may take hypnotherapy to recover those memories (just kidding). Today it is much easier in the sense that my twins are in school until 3:15 and my youngest around 1:45. I get up early to take them to school and get back to repair all the damage that has been inflicted on my house by my kids and wife. It’s quite amazing to be honest. In between I do shopping, errands, dinner, laundry, etc. After I pick my kids up from school we enjoy some free time and then we do homework. We make dinner and get ready to do it again the next day. I don’t think it’s much different than what other families do.

Mom: A typical day at our house is very active and very loud! The concept of “inside voices” is one we’re still working on — add to that a lot of laughing, yelling, singing, and humming (times three) and the noise level gets pretty intense, but you kind of get used to it. We are more likely to notice the quiet when everyone goes to bed than the noise when they are awake, and I wouldn’t trade our bustling home for anything! There is a fair amount of structure to our day, but we also go out of our way to change things up in small ways too in our effort to strike a balance between affording our kids the structure and routine that they need and also teaching them to cope with some level of ambiguity and spontaneity.

Question: What lifestyle interests do you promote with your sons?

Dad: My boys all enjoy reading and that is something we’ve always encouraged from a very young age. We like to play the Wii and board games even though my kids have a tendency to change the rules to their benefit. I always seem to lose. They are just now starting to get into sports, especially football, which makes me very proud being from Texas.. We’ve had them in gymnastics for a few summers now and that is something that really seems to help them with their lack of coordination. We’ve tried chess club at school and art camps during the summer. Camping is something that we will be experimenting with this spring and summer. Baseball and soccer were very difficult because there is a lot of waiting, which is very difficult. I paid a lot of money to watch my kids pick flowers. There are still a lot of activities out there to expose them to so it’s about finding what they might enjoy.

Mom: We’ve tried to expose our boys to a lot of different things because you never know what they’re going to really enjoy or have a talent for. We try to balance things that play to their strengths versus things that will stretch them and help them develop in areas that may not be their strengths. The key for us has been to be flexible. Some things we’ve tried didn’t go so well, and even an “age-appropriate” activity doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a good fit for a child on the spectrum-but sometimes you just don’t know until you try. For example, even the 4 year old tae kwon do class required a level of focus and attention span that our extremely active twins just didn’t quite have yet, even though they had the physical skills needed. A year later, we tried gymnastics and they did great!

Question: What question(s) are you asked most often about your choice to stay at home?

Dad: The first question is why would you want to do that? This question gets asked equally from both men and women, in case some are wondering. I just explain the situation as politely as I can and people usually understand or at least just smile. I think it is still controversial to a lot of people but you do what you think is best for your kids.

Question: How do you feel about being the primary caregiver for your sons?

Dad: I think I feel the same as any other father out there, very blessed. I’m just fortunate enough to have the ability to stay home with my kids and hope I do a good job raising them. I really don’t feel like I’m the primary caregiver. I feel my wife and I do a good job balancing that by making sure we spend equal amounts of time with them. It’s hard to do but we manage it.

Question: What do you like most about being a stay-at-home Dad?

Dad: What I most like about it is that I get to watch my kids grow every day. It’s really an amazing thing to watch your kids progress day to day. I remember when they were born and its seems just like yesterday. We only get them at home a short time and once that is gone, there’s no turning back the clocks. My wife and I have a lot of faults and we are always trying to be better parents but one thing that we’ve been good about from the very beginning is that we spend lots of time with our kids.

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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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