My wife and I have three beautiful boys. When I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I was worried about whether or not I had been a good dad to my children. Recently, our oldest son told a friend how much fun he was having with me while his mom and brothers were out of town. I was totally shocked to hear this because, quite honestly, I’m not all that outgoing, social and, well, fun.
Then it dawned on me that there are at least five reasons why my autism actually makes me an awesome dad:
My autism causes me to stick to routines. I’m pretty predictable, but that’s what makes me an awesome dad. Our kids know what to expect from me, and they know what I expect from them. Our relationship is transparent and authentic because of that. Most of all, they know they can always count on me because their dad is consistent.
This may sound like number one, but let me explain why it’s different. I often repeat myself — a lot. It’s a part of my autism, and I especially do it when I’m passionate about something I’m discussing. This works for my kids because I don’t mind saying the same things over and over. And if you have children, then you know that repeating yourself is a huge part of the job. Bottom line, our kids see me as patient because I repeat things to them until they learn it. With Dad, they don’t feel pressure to get it right the first time.
I have a tendency to get really focused on whatever I’m engaged in, and I’m compelled to complete whatever I start. This sends a great message to our kids because they’ve never seen Dad quit anything. I recently graduated with a doctorate degree in four years despite having major surgery, relocating, seeing my wife go through major surgery and having a major employment transition while working a full-time job and being a full-time dad. My boys see that Dad doesn’t quit, and they admire it so they don’t quit either.
I’m not overly social, so it’s fairly obvious to my kids that Dad needs some alone time every now and then. Rather than take it personally, they see my need to retreat as a need to reflect. They see Dad as a thinker, someone who takes time to process so they’re learning to become thinkers, too. Ultimately, they’re learning to make good choices because they’re learning to think and reflect first before acting and speaking.
I wasn’t a very social kid growing up, so I took up reading in order to substitute for my lack of a social life. To this day, I’m still an avid reader. My kids see Dad reading all the time, so they love to read, too. As the saying goes, “Leaders are readers.” Every day, we see them learning how to become young leaders.
Our kids don’t necessarily know that Dad is on the autism spectrum. They just know that Dad is a little different, but I’m glad the fact that I’m different is making a positive difference in their little lives. It makes me grateful for the opportunity to be their dad with autism, and I look forward to seeing them grow up.