5 Ways to Be a Pretty Good Special Needs Dad and Husband

I have a wife and a 12-year-old son with severe, classic, nonverbal autism as well as somewhat severe epilepsyI’m in no way a perfect special needs dad and husband. I’m not even good. I’d say I’m pretty good. And I can always strive to be better.

No one, including our wives, are asking us to be perfect. I’m sure they’d settle for pretty good.

So here are five things I’ve learned over the years that I think make me a pretty good special needs dad and husband.

1. You don’t need to reinvent yourself and become this super-amazing dad. That’s not what your spouse or your kid is looking for. Just be a wee bit better than the father and husband you were before the diagnosis.

If you were the kind of father and husband who went out three times a week with the fellas — poker one night, golf on Saturday and football on Sunday — then that’s the precedent your family dynamic has set. So when autism or epilepsy or whatever enters your household, don’t think your family necessarily wants you to drop everything. Just drop one of them, maybe two on stressful weeks.

2. Readjust your priorities. If you always pictured yourself as the type of dad who’d spend the weekends trapped in your garage working on home improvement projects all day, hopefully eventually with your son, you might need to let that go. And you need to evaluate if the home improvement project is really necessary, or if you might be using it as a form of escape.

Home improvement is just an example. I’ve never been a home improvement guy, but maybe sometimes in the early days of our life after my son’s autism diagnosis, I’d use work as my escape and work later and stay longer than necessary. But then I realized I was using it as an escape, and that wasn’t fair to my kid or my wife. So evaluate yourself, figure out if you’re also using something as an escape and adjust accordingly.

3. Have roles and jobs in your special needs household that are entirely yours. I am and have always been the sleep guy. It’s my job to put my son, Kyle, to bed each night. We didn’t decide on that or have a formal conversation about it; it just evolved over the years and became my role.

I’m also the medicine guy. I stay on top of all of Kyle’s meds and vitamins, putting them in his weekly dispenser, re-ordering them when they run out, picking them up at the pharmacy and for the most part I’m the one giving it to him each day. Lately that means getting up at 4:45 a.m. to give him one med that needs to be taken by itself and then getting up 45 minutes later to give him the rest.

Those are two roles that are entirely mine. I’ve got a few more. Wifey’s probably got 50, but being able to take a few entirely off her plate is definitely a help to her. Maybe I’ll try to take a few more off her plate.

4. Have alone time with your kid as much as possible. And during that alone time, encourage your wife to go out and take a break. Your kid needs time with his dad. That’s always valuable and important to both of you. And your wife probably really needs a break. Sometimes for us, it’s as simple as me volunteering to take Kyle to his special needs swimming and music classes without Wifey on a Saturday morning. This way she can sleep in and then go to a yoga class.

You should also encourage your wife to have hobbies that aren’t related to special needs. Researching autism therapies during her downtime isn’t really downtime.

5. When you’re with your family, just be there… be present. I have the hardest time with this. Having a smart phone, social media and my Autism Daddy site is my kryptonite. Sometimes when I’m with my wife and kid, I’m not really with them because I’m checking my phone for the score of the Yankees game or seeing who commented on my latest blog. And if I’m doing that, then I’m with them but not really there. So sometimes, and this is hard for me, I try to put the phone away for the whole day and just live in the moment with the people who are in my presence.

Maybe a smart phone isn’t your kryptonite; maybe something else is. Figure out what’s consuming your thoughts when you’re with your family and work on putting it aside and just living in the moment.

That’s it. That’s my five. Moms and dads, let’s hear what you’d add to the list.

Follow this journey on Autism Daddy.

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