2022 Autism Awareness Day
Updated: Apr 4, 2022
Last year on Autism Awareness Day 2021, I spoke more broadly about issues in our community.
This year, having cultivated a deeper membership within Autism Dadvocate, I want to speak a little more narrowly…
It’s at the intersection of three areas - Autism Dadvocacy, mental health, and community support.
Having supported Dads of autistic kids for the past 2 ½ years, and – with the benefit of some informal polling with these Dads the past month or so – I asked these Dads what would benefit them the most.
What was the one overriding theme?
……..the desire to feel connected………to be a part of something.,..........to not feel so alone
When you have a child on the spectrum, the walls of your world shrink to a dangerous level. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from the 2 year pandemic, we are social creatures, we are tribal creatures. We are hardwired for connection.
Reflecting on my own experience after hitting a scary wall and mental collapse in May 2018. I know that connection and support are the key. For the past Two Christmases, I’ve bought the book “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger for my circle of friends (my tribe) - a fascinating study on the importance of community and commonality. In American culture, men are taught to “lone wolf” their way through life. In our society, the Lone Wolf is heralded. He is praised for his independence and rugged individualism. But the fact of the matter is, Lone Wolves starve.
Fathers of autistic children have higher rates of mental health issues, higher rates of marital separation and divorce (somewhere between 75-80%), and higher rates of addiction. Why is this the case?
Here’s my hypothesis………
In a marriage where there is an autistic child, the roles of husband and wife (or partner) become archetypal.
Mothers become the primary caregivers, the primary care coordinator, and key orchestrator of all therapies - speech, behavioral, occupational
Women are intuitively better connectors - reaching out for support, understanding that there are answers out there, it's just a question of finding them, talking to the right people, looking for support online, through phone calls, and in-person, whatever it takes. Women have less ego when it comes to not knowing something.
Men? Men are lost. Men fall into other roles - primary breadwinner -particularly if the child is lower on the spectrum - primary caregiver to neurotypical siblings, household repairman (those holes in the walls don’t fix themselves), and sadly…….lone wolf. A huge chasm widens between wife and husband.
Here’s a personal story that illustrates how much more women are wired for connection. One December morning, I was checking my Autism Dadvocate web site analytics. Wow - 21 registrations for the month of November. Cool. Oh wait - 18 were from women. Why? How can this be? My site is geared towards Dads? A mystery. Is it poor marketing and promotion on my part? Or are there certain gender norms that are preventing Dads from reaching out?.
So……….here’s my call to action during Autism Awareness month.
No light it up blue! Or parade in a public park - although these have their place.
Within our Dadvocate community - let’s continue and increase the tribal support – call, text, check in, reach out in any way - no reason, no agenda, no topic - just connecting for the sake of connecting. Let’s just do it.
Outside the autism community, you can help as well. CDC guidance now states that 1 in 44 children is born on the spectrum. Therefore you know one of these Dads- in your neighborhood, at your kids’s school, at your church.
Here’s the one thing you can do to be an advocate for our community
Reach out, connect, and listen, avoid stumbling into advice-giving. Put the Alpha Male in you aside for this conversation; it’s okay to be A- for a while.. Dial the volume back on any advice giving, just be present and listen. Trust me - if you do this, you’ll have a loyal friend for life.
Spoiler alert! - Autism Advocate will be launching an online discussion group - (from the plea of an amazing Dad from San Diego). No more lone wolfing. We’ll bring the tribe and community right to you. More details forthcoming. Stay tuned!......