As a new father, I had so many hopes, dreams, misconceptions, and illusions of what fatherhood was all about. It all seemed very easy for the fathers I had seen on television when I was younger. All problems were solved within half an hour, and everyone was happy at the end. The mother deferred to the father in the ideal world of the sitcom in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I knew it wouldn’t be exactly like that for me but I hoped my experiences would at least be no more difficult. I had no idea what God was about to unfold in my life.
From the point my son made his appearance in the world, I was so proud of him, and my beautiful wife who bore him. I remember the glow in her face as vividly as if it happened yesterday. I loved my new baby boy. His mother and father truly loved and enjoyed him. Unfortunately, like so many young parents we put work and money first and therefore sent our new young son off to daycare.
My wife was eager to get back to work and I actively encouraged her to return. Like most young couples we were strapped with bills and house payments. Plus at the time I was just starting in aviation so there was no shortage of bills. I was practically an absentee father at the time. My job was 80 miles away so I had to get up early in the morning, about 3:30am or so just to get there by 6:00am. I worked until 4pm and then didn’t get home until 6:30 pm at the earliest. I was off Friday through Sunday much of that time was spent either at the airport or in front of the television.
When I was “there” at home I did enjoy playing with my new son. He seemed to be developing pretty normally; he liked to run and jump on me, he liked his mother to read to him, he LOVED chasing the cat around. When he was almost 2 years old I caught my dad snapping his fingers behind my son’s head, sometimes clapping his hands. When I asked my parents what this was about my mother replied that there was just something wrong with my son. Rather than try to tap into the collective wisdom of my parents I immediately became defensive telling them he was just a late bloomer. That’s what the doctors had been saying. Sure he had some odd behaviors, but this was our first child, all his behaviors were odd. Sure he cried a lot, he was just collicky.
I continued along happily in denial until my wife informed me that some of the tests she had taken my son to had shown that he’d had some hearing loss. We began researching some hearing impared schools and whether or not he should learn American Sign Language, Signing Exact English, we were also hopeful that hearing aids would allow him to hear well enough to speak normally. I became hopeful at that point that once his hearing was corrected he would develop normally.
By this time my son was in preschool. We had him in some special classes for hearing impaired children. He was also receiving speech therapy at the time. The teachers began to tell my wife that he still wasn’t developing normally. I was so out of touch I had no idea what was going on. I had relegated the education of my son to my wife and I really had no interest in it. Somewhere along the line my wife was referred to Bryna Siegel, a specialist in autism diagnosis. An appointment was made with her and we drove to UCSF for the day. We spent several hours being questioned about family histories, and my son’s development while they observed, tested, and played with him. At the end of the day, Dr. Siegel’s assistant broke the news to us that his behavior was consistent with austistic spectrum disorder. Dr. Siegel later met with us and informed us that our son was autistic in the same way most people would say “the sky is blue.”
My wife and I were shell shocked. We made the drive back home in almost complete silence.