A Father’s Perspective Navigating Life on the Autism Spectrum
By Kevin Harris | Published on September 7, 2020 | 9 Minute Read
I remember the room was cold enough that I was worried he was chilly. Christian was only a few hours old, and my wife - who just went through a grueling 20 hour labor and was getting some well-deserved rest - couldn’t ease my mind by telling me he was fine. Hospitals always seemed too cold to me. Though I always preferred to be cold instead of warm. Except now, I wanted to put the thermostat up to make it warmer in the room, even though I absolutely hated being too warm. That’s when I realized that something instinctively had taken over within me. At 30 years old, I was finally a father, and for the first time in my life I no longer thought about myself first. My first worry and thought was now about my newborn son and his well being.
The nurses came in and asked the expected questions: How is baby doing? Are we okay? Did we need anything? I didn’t know how to answer those. My mind was racing, and I felt bad that I couldn’t answer their questions effectively. Mostly because I had a million questions of my own. Was I ready for this? Would I be able to be as good of a dad as my father was? I never had a doubt my wife would be an amazing mother, but I had serious doubts about my ability as a father. I couldn’t ask them those questions though. Realistically, they wouldn’t be able to answer them. I wasn’t sure I could answer them myself. Then they asked a question I didn’t expect that caught me off guard. They asked if we wanted to adjust the lighting in the room, as it was dimly lit. I hadn’t noticed. My wife was sleeping of course, but to be honest - the room felt bright to me. Maybe it was the recessed lighting. But I like to think it was more than that. Holding my son in my arms, I saw his unlimited potential and all the things he might do in the future. Would he be a baseball player? I pictured him walking across a stage getting his college diploma. I saw him doing incredible things. The room felt illuminated. His future – and ours – looked unlimited. Bright.
Christian’s first year was met with the typical milestones. He smiled and laughed when he was only 5 weeks old. He loved tummy time and held his head up with ease. He breastfed and even supplemented with formula. He slept well through the night and also took proper naps. He ate solids and loved them. He rolled over at 5 months. He crawled at 8 months, and took his first steps when he was 10 months old.
"I pictured him walking across a stage getting his college diploma. I saw him doing incredible things. The room felt illuminated. His future – and ours – looked unlimited. Bright. "
He also said mom often and dada around then. Every pediatrician appointment we had he was growing and developing well, and there were never any concerns.
Shortly after his first birthday, my wife and I noticed he still wasn’t saying many words. Once he hit 15 months old, we began noticing other things. He wasn’t making proper eye contact and wasn’t always responding to his name. He would get upset around people he didn’t see often. He would giggle to himself. He would space out and seem to be in his own little world at times. But he was loving, and came to us often for hugs and kisses. We brought our concerns to multiple pediatricians, ENT’s, speech evaluators, and early interventionists. He wasn’t fixated on wheels, he didn’t line things up, nor did he have food aversions or repetitive behaviors. Because of this – as well as him still being under 2 - they told us that he appeared to be okay; that he was still young. In a twist of universal irony, my wife happens to be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, working in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Christian’s behavior and growth did not fit what she was typically used to seeing. It was the first time in the years I’ve known her that she doubted herself. She was unsure if it was because of her motherly subjective bias, or if we were truly being too hyper focused. Eventually, we both had a feeling that neither of us could properly shake. Despite constant objection and multiple roadblocks along the way, we fought hard to get answers even after being denied or written off multiple times by multiple experts. Our worries and thoughts were only about our son and his well being.
I remember that the room was cold enough that I was worried he was chilly. Christian loved to be outside so he liked the warmth. He didn’t care for being cold, and personally I always found doctor offices too cold anyway.
"Eventually, we both had a feeling that neither of us could properly shake. Despite constant objection and multiple roadblocks along the way, we fought hard to get answers even after being denied or written off multiple times by multiple experts."
Christian didn’t care for them either. He would cry and try to leave when he was somewhere he didn’t want to be. He would use his hands to rub his arms when he was too cold, which he was doing at that moment as he cried and tried to leave the neurodevelopmental pediatricians office we were in. I didn’t know if he wanted to leave because he was cold, didn’t want to be there, or both. I was only able to assume, since he was 26 months old at that point and still was not talking. The neurodevelopmental pediatrician decided to speak instead.
“I believe the most likely diagnosis is that Christian is on the Autism Spectrum. Do you have any questions about that?”
I wanted to ask if she could make the room warmer, even though I hated being warm. My first worry and thoughts were about my son and his well being. Obviously that wasn’t a proper question in the moment. I was clearly looking for a distraction; a problem I could potentially solve, as I felt powerless in that moment. My mind was racing. Of course I had a million questions. My wife couldn’t ease my mind and tell me he was fine, as that was no longer the case. I saw his unlimited potential squandered and all the things he would no longer be able to do in the future. Sports were likely out of the question now. Would he even graduate high school? I saw him struggling to do even the most basic things for the rest of his life. What would that look like now? After 26 months, I still had doubts about my ability as a father. So would I now be able to be an effective father of a child on the autism spectrum?
“No. No questions”.
I couldn’t ask those questions. Realistically, she wouldn’t be able to answer them. I knew no one would have the answers. I couldn’t answer them myself. The neurodevelopmental had a window in her office. The sun was out and shining that day, but the room felt dim to me. His future – and ours – looked uncertain. Dark.
Christian began 40-plus hours of ABA therapy, as well as Speech and Occupational Therapy. And while the COVID-19 Pandemic has proven to be challenging, as he approaches his 3rd birthday, we couldn’t be happier with the kid he has become. While he still does not talk, he communicates in other ways and makes eye contact regularly. He does well around strangers, and loves to laugh, smile, jump on anything he can find, and rough-house like most young boys do. He rarely has meltdowns, and he loves playing outside and LOVES water.
People tell me that they don’t often see many dads take such an active advocacy and awareness role in the life of a child on the spectrum. I’m always quick to respectfully correct them because, while I believe it’s important to spread awareness and acceptance, I’m primarily an advocate for my son irrespective of his diagnosis. I am my son’s voice since he has none. It’s a role I take seriously. I will forever be his biggest fan, crusader and champion. And he’s even made his mom and I better people. We started to take our health seriously. I went from weighing 344lbs to losing 160lbs, while my wife lost over 110lbs herself. In some ways, his diagnosis brought us even closer and more in love; we learned that together, we were an incredible team who could do anything we put our minds to.
"While I believe it’s important to spread awareness and acceptance, I’m primarily an advocate for my son irrespective of his diagnosis. I am my son’s voice since he has none. It’s a role I take seriously."
I find it ironic that Christian is technically classified “disabled”. I don’t see how that is even possible. He shows me how able he is every single day. I will forever doubt my abilities as a father. But I will never doubt his abilities, which he continues to amaze me with every day. I have no doubt that he will have a happy, successful life. I firmly believe he could be great at team sports if he ever chooses to do so. I have no doubt that he will graduate high school, nor would I be surprised if he graduates college with honors; considering how much he loves to read books and learn.
Even if the future seems uncertain and dark at times, I no longer doubt that he will accomplish great things; finding the light to show him the way. Together, we will be with him every step of the way.
The future - for us - is still bright.
You can find me on social media where I use my platform to share my fitness and weight loss journey, while also documenting Christian’s progress and story; advocating and raising awareness for those with ASD. Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @kgh87 or on Twitter @kevinG_harris.
About the Author
I’m a Technology Coordinator and fitness enthusiast and proud husband and father. In my spare time I enjoy playing guitar and piano, watching movies, and enjoying a nice cup of coffee. After losing 160lbs, I have become focused on helping to inspire others to embrace their goals and make healthier changes.