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Saturday, June 18, 2011

..... Don't forget the Dads

It was my dad who set me on this path towards treating autism, although I'm sure he was unaware of it at the time. My dad is an engineer, and our minds work in similar ways, with both of us at times a little closer to the spectrum than not. We got memos when we were kids (both written and spoken), not long explanations. My dad saw, more than most, my basic discomfort with the world of people. He shielded me, but also required me to gain the skills I would need to deal with others - when he forced me to learn to use the phone as a teenager, I thought he was so mean, standing firm against my tears - he knew better than I did what was necessary (and I've come to realize he doesn't like the phone much either).

My dad had to travel a lot for work when we were young, and I treasured the times we spent together when he was home. One day after lunch, he started doodling on the back of an old envelope, then began to tell me a story as he drew - little bug people, strange mechanical contraptions, silly happenings - a wonderful unexpected sharing between like minds. The seed of that moment stayed with me, and gave me the idea of intentionally having visual conversations with my young clients who also shared that visual thinking "flavour".  A great idea that has grown into many useful techniques - thanks Dad!

Dads add a whole different dimension to parenting. They often have a well-developed sense of fun, of the absurd. I was always impressed with how my husband, John, was able to make up endless silly games using whatever was at hand - a cardboard box, a ball, a piece of string. He could improvise stories and contests on the spot, easily connecting to his own "inner child", following the kids into their world and intuitively knowing what was fun. It's a gift. Often, when I'm at a loss in therapy for how to truly catch a child's interest, I channel my "inner John" to find the game in the mundane.

a picture of Adam and his Dad - drawn when Adam was 11 yrs old

Adam's dad, Casey, has always been a strong support for his son. When Adam was young, the only person he was able to respond to was his mom - later, he added me to the very small group of people that he "noticed". During these early years, Casey tirelessly advocated for his son, running interference with schools and other government agencies, talking to legislators, searching out therapists - all the while, Adam seemed unable to "see" him. This must have been difficult for Casey, but he handled the situation with humour, never complained and never stopped trying to reach his son.

When Adam started to draw, he began to notice more about the outside world - and he finally noticed his dad. He and his dad began to do things together - it turns out that they have a lot in common (including facial expressions) - and Adam discovered how much he enjoyed his dad's company.

by Adam, age 11

Over the years, Adam has come to expect that his dad will share in certain things - trips to haunted Halloween theme parks and Disney World, movies and hiking and bike trips - and he also knows that if he has a technical problem with his computer or video player, dad's his guy.

by Adam, age 11

The bond between a father and a child is unique and important. You guys are indispensable and we love you ..... Happy Father's Day!!

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