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  • pacarroll99

Four Key Life Lessons I learned from my Autistic son

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Sunday, April 2nd is World Autism Acceptance Day (formerly Autism Awareness Day) – an important day for the autism community.

I will not be joining any community events, walks, or rallies this weekend (though they have their place). Rather, I will use this Sunday as a reflective day to marinate in gratitude, and appreciate all the valuable lessons that my autistic son has taught me.

Below are the four that come to mind. For those of you blessed with an autistic child, I hope these resonate with you.

  1. Go deep in what you love…….

  2. Reflect (and repeat) on the things that you love

  3. Embrace your brave, awkward self

  4. Release……..release your expectations, and release your control


#1 -Go Deep in what you love

One of the beauties of autism is the fanaticism that your son or daughter shows on what they truly love. Below is a list for my son:

  • Football, football, football……even when NFL season is over……..

  • All things math

  • The Arabic alphabet (though this obsession ended at the age of eight)

  • Meteorology

  • Mario Kart

The lesson I’ve learned from my son is not only his whole-hearted embrace of the things he loves, but his animated glee when sharing it with me. Man, it is contagious. When Vaughn’s eyes light up as he breaks down the QBRs for all of the AFC’s quarterbacks, his unadulterated enthusiasm fills my soul.

#2 - Reflect (and repeat) on the things that you love

A common gripe I hear from Dads is how much their children repeat themselves. And yes, I have moments where the redundancy of my conversations with my son wears me down. But I’ve chosen to lean in to this repetition, as I know it keeps him in a “good place”.

Recently, my son has been obsessed with top ten lists. For example, the top ten things I did this summer; the top ten highlights of 10th grade so far; the top ten QBs in the AFC. And although it can get tedious, it is fun for me to hear his rationale for his top ten lists. In some respects, it is a gratitude exercise, as he shares with me why the Panthers / 49ers game in Charlotte was his number 1 event of 2022. He now wants me to create my own top ten lists, which…to be honest…….is kinda fun.

3). Embrace your brave, awkward self

This is my favorite quote from Brene Brown - and boy, does my son live this mantra to a tee. He unabashedly loves what he loves, and he is NOT afraid to let the world know it.

For example, here is a list of phrases you’ll see my son wearing proudly on his T-shirts.

  • “Math is a piece of cake (oops!) pi 𝛑”

  • “I love math and cats”

  • “Hello, square root of 100th grade”

  • “Trust me, I know my weather”

  • “I wear this shirt periodically” (and below is a graphic of the periodic table)

Recently, my son went to his 10th grade formal, and……...with a date! When I went to pick him up, I saw no sign of his date anywhere.

I asked him….”Hey, where did Emily go?”

“Oh, she left early……………….about 30 minutes ago”

“Oh, so what did you do the last 30 minutes of the dance?”

“I was dancing!!!!”

If I only had my son’s self-confidence……..I cannot even imagine joining the dance floor by myself and getting jiggy with it until the end of the night. But my son does………..

4). Release……..release your expectations, and release your control

I’ve long let go of any expectations of what my son should, or should not be. This is a beautiful thing, because I’ve also learned to release expectations of myself (recovering Alpha male) and I’ve released control of situations (recovering control freak).

From my son’s example, I’ve learned to embrace the “is-ness” of any situation, rather than force it to some preconceived belief of what it should be, or what would be the best scenario. If my son has a meltdown, it will be over (eventually). I just need to let it be. There will be another sunrise, another sunset, another day…………and I’m soooooo much better for it.


Post-script - In April - during Autism Awareness month - if you meet up with the father of an autistic child, here’s what I’d like you to do….

Give him the tightest hug possible, look him in the eye, and say “You’re crushing it!.....Every day…….You’re totally crushing it!…..”

And then walk away knowing the impact you just had on him………………….


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