Opinion: Parents of Austic Children Have More to Celebrate Than Mourn

Filed under: Special Needs, Single Parenting, Opinions

No matter how you slice it, it's a stressful job, and the hours stink. But the rewards? Phenomenal. Credit: Getty Images

I am the single father of an autistic teenager.

And I mean single. I am all alone here.

My son's mother lives 400 miles away and rarely sees him. I have not sought or received so much as a dime of child support, even though I am pushing 50 and am still hanging by a thread on an income that ...

Well, just don't major in journalism, kids.

Am I whining? Am I complaining? No, but maybe I should. It seems to be all the rage these days.

I just finished reporting a story about how parents of autistic kids make less money. Oh, it's horrible. Mothers apparently suffer the most. Fathers, as we all know, are insensitive louts who don't give two good hoots about their kids -- especially if they're "damaged."

So it falls to Mom to take lower-paying, more flexible jobs so she can act as a case manager for her disabled child.

Boo hoo.

If that's your sob story, you came to the wrong single father for sympathy. I feel increasingly cold toward fellow parents complaining about the trials and tribulations of having autistic children.

I feel toward them the way I did when I was a newspaper editor, and young reporters whined to me about their long hours and low pay. No one lied to them in the brochure. They knew going in that journalism was a hard-knock life.

The same is true of parenting. No matter how you slice it, it's a stressful job, and the hours stink. So does the pay. There's a reason childless couples are off exploring the fjords of Norway while you stay up nights worrying about how you're going to pay for your kid's braces.

That's true whether or your child has autism or not. Autism just adds a whole other level of stress.

However, the rewards of parenting are phenomenal. I love having an autistic son. I love that he geeks out about trains, road maps and World War II history. I love that he can repeat almost every line from every TV show and movie he has ever seen. Yes, it makes him different. But different is good.

In fact, in our bland vanilla world where so many people seem to be sleepwalking through life, different is fantastic.

My son has a high-functioning form of autism, so I may have it easier than a lot of parents. Then again, a lot of parents have the day-to-day support of a spouse and higher incomes. Bottom line: We all have problems.

I just wish we could all learn to enjoy what we have instead of whining so much about what we don't have. Autism is not necessarily a bad thing. It's just a thing.

I have a great life, career and son.

Logistics and life circumstances may keep my ex-wife at a distance, but my son knows his mother loves him. So do I. She and I didn't break up because of what writers perpetually call the "grim toll" autism takes on families. It just happened, like it happens in some 50 percent of marriages.

That's the point, I guess. Life just happens. Some of it's good. Some of it's not so good. It mostly depends on how you choose to respond to it.

Autistic children are not conditions to be managed and treated or problems to be endured. They are people to be understood -- and celebrated.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.