Autism Dad: I Need to Know

I arrive at the cookie-cutter strip mall to pick up the boys. I buckle them into their car seats and we begin the 45-minute drive to Papa’s house. Immediately my 4-year-old, Ryan, whines, “I want big-boy seat.” This is followed, predictably, by tears. “Have you had nappy today?” I ask. No response. I look over my shoulder; Ryan’s sound asleep, his hand pressed against his cheek.

Ben is seated directly behind me. ‘It’s so good to see you,” I say. He says nothing. A minute later: “I love you Benny. I love you so much.” Again, nothing.

Are my words being understood? Does Ben get the concept of love—and specifically, the depth and intensity of the love that his Daddy feels for him?

I need to know.

Did those three words make their way to Ben’s brain…or to his heart?

If I send out an email or get a new Facebook friend, I receive prompt confirmation. With an autistic son, communicating is much more of a challenge. I love you, Benny. I know with certainty that my message was delivered, but was it received? Or did his brain simply not open the message, ignore it—or worse, press delete?  I wish, metaphorically, that I could send a messenger on horseback like they did in the Old West, or by bike like the young man in Il Postino. At least they could report back to me: “Ben got the message, he understood it, and yes, he loves you too.”

There are times when Ben is more responsive and his language more reciprocal. In rare instances he will say, “I love you, Daddy,” and hearing those simple words will bring me great comfort. Still, I can’t help but wonder if he’s simply parroting my words.

I need to know.

When I was a self-conscious teenager, I would come home from school and cringe with embarrassment at the sight of my dancing mother letting it all hang out in the family room to the sounds of Meatloaf. Dancing was her therapy; she had failed to recruit her husband or adolescent boys as partners, so she danced alone. And now, through the eyes of a 44-year-old man rather than a 14-year-old brat, I can appreciate the pleasure she took in moving her body and expressing herself. And as I sit here today in what was once my mother’s dancing room, a room that has not changed much since her passing in 1993, I can picture her in her element as Meatloaf’s duet, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, blared from the record player.

(Girl)
I gotta know right now!
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
And will you love me forever?

And as I look at little Ben, I realize that, unlike the characters in this song, I can never reasonably expect my autistic son to express his love for me in such explicit terms.

I gotta know right now!/Do you love me?  

The more I think about it, perhaps I don’t need to know. At the end of the day, words are words. Meatloaf may declare his love and say all the right things to his girl, and then disappear forever. Words are sometimes overrated. Maybe I need to focus less on words and more on actions—less on my needs and more on Ben’s and Ryan’s.

Sometimes it’s good to remind myself—it’s not always about me.

 ###

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This entry was posted in October 2010 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Autism Dad: I Need to Know

  1. Patrice says:

    This was a great story. My son too is on the spectrum and beginning to express himself much more. He recently compared his more non-verbal friends to the character of Ferb in Phineas and Ferb. He said his friends “talk in action.” You are right, your son is communicating all the time, just not using words. Keep an open mind and you will see the love all the time I bet.

  2. aspergersmom says:

    I just found your blog. I love the way you write and describe this experience. Like you said, we are so conditioned in our society to near immediate feedback. The lack of this in the journey of parenting a child on the spectrum is definitely one of the greater challenges. In my experience, even with “typical” children, so much of growing up is a meander rather than direct line. “Two steps forward, one step back” really describes the experience of raising any child. This is magnified when it relates to the child on the spectrum.

    I liked how Patrice says to look for the non-verbal communication. I have found that the non-verbal communication is so much more subtle and very authentic.

  3. Autism Dad says:

    Thanks Aspergersmom and Patrice for your comments. Your insights are very helpful. I am fortunate, as I have two very affectionate boys, both of whom are big cuddlers! Hope you all are enjoying your Saturday morning. I awoke to rain this morning and it was so refreshing. See, we do have a change of seasons in San Diego 🙂

  4. Jean Nicol says:

    I have read all your blogs now and enjoyed all! I like your writing style and will continue to follow this bog. Have you considered writing in any other format, perhaps one that may also prove to be financially beneficial? You should.

    • Autism Dad says:

      Jean: thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words. I will be adding new posts later today, so check back!
      If you have any specific ideas on different formats that might also have a financial benefit, please share your thoughts. Many thanks again………Adam

  5. jess says:

    you don’t need the words to know. in fact, sometimes in the absence of words the feelings are that much more real.

  6. cassiejean says:

    Wow. I feel blessed to read such genuine words from the heart. Thank you for sharing. I have no answers… I wish I did… But one (maybe encouraging) thought comes to mind: Ben is so lucky, so blessed to have a father that loves him so much. “…the depth and intensity of the love that his Daddy feels for him…” My heart goes out to you, to no know with 100% certainty what Ben understands or feels – but it blesses me to know there is a dad out there that loves that much.

    • Autism Dad says:

      Whether they can express it or not, I think most dads are absolutely crazy about their kids and love them indescribably. I just happen to be pretty good at describing it 🙂

  7. rolaaus says:

    I express my love by hugging and kissing my son(s) (both, only 1 has Autism) and, fortunately he is still young enough for me to pick him up. His response, I just saw more evidence of in our last (attempted) visitation transfer, he kept trying to climb up into my arms even after I set him down on multiple occasions. I have seen my wife’s (yes, we’re not divorced yet) new boyfriend (who happens to be one of my ex best friends, guess why he’s the “ex” best friend?) holding my son’s hand while they wait for her to get the car seats in my car (for the first visit she “compromised” and allowed me to use the one’s we already owned together, but not any more), and I don’t see any interaction between the two of them whatsoever, which is just fine in my book!

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