The first time I ever heard the expression “Mother Warriors,” I half expected to see a pink tank rolling down the street or perhaps a platoon of women in designer fatigues with daisies sticking out of their gun barrels. But then, after I let my out-of-control imagination subside, I was able to see the true strength and power of these ferociously focused females.
Over the past few years since my son Mikey’s autism diagnosis, I’ve experienced the phenomenon of the mother warrior autism mom and the oftentimes ignored autism dad. Being an autism dad is one of the most challenging things a man can experience and requires a life-altering transformation.
The mother warriors I’ve come across transcend the traditional nurturing role of a mommy to seize the warrior spirit that lets them become relentless in the drive to get whatever their child needs to thrive. The ironic thing is that the autism dad needs to go beyond the traditional male trait of being warrior-minded. No, the autism dad requires much more patience, tenderness, and love than typical of a warrior. Our fight needs to be against our natural inclinations. Moms forming groups, battling school boards, etc. shows the natural female ability to be organized and come together as a group. Men don’t organize. When men organize it usually turns into a political party…and we all know how successful they are. No, men just want to fix things. How can we fix autism? Is there a tool for it? How about a little WD-40 or some duct tape?
I learned early on as an autism dad that it’s not about fixing…it’s about giving. An autism dad has to give all of himself to his child. You can’t hold back any attention, any compassion, any understanding, and most of all, any love. Not an easy task for most men.
I was fortunate to learn how to be an autism dad because of the silver lining of a dark, dark cloud. I was unemployed for almost two straight years right at the time when Mikey was diagnosed. I basically became “Mr. Mom” and was able to spend an incredible amount of time with Mikey. We learned so much from each other during those tough times and Mikey truly kept me from falling into a deep depression. My biggest smiles of the day were picking Mikey up from his developmental school and then a little later when my wife would walk in from work. My family was my inspiration and my foundation.
Being an autism dad has helped me to fine-tune natural skills I had, and to develop new skills that I never thought I’d need. Taking Mikey to t-ball and soccer is second nature to me…I waited my whole life to be a sports dad. Asking people for money while fundraising for an autism charity…so out of my comfort zone. But whether I’m helping Mikey throw a baseball, or raising $1700 for charity, it’s all with the single focus of helping my child overcome autism.
So, my advice for new autism dads, or for dads who haven’t quite figured out the whole autistic child thing, is to embrace everything there is about your child and their special needs. Go to their doctor appointments, be a part of their therapy sessions, go to their schools, get involved with autism charities, read everything there is about autism, and be prepared for anything your child needs. Preparedness is the way to win battles and wars. Just ask a mother warrior.
Dan Olawski blogs about fatherhood and his son Mikey for the Autism Society. He lives with his family on Long Island, N.Y., where he works as a writer/editor. His time is spent following Mikey with a vacuum cleaner, watching his beloved New York Yankees and continuing his pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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