Tales of an Autism Dad: ‘Mother Warriors’ Scare the Heck Outta Me

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 [email protected].

Editor’s note: Do you agree with Dan? Leave him a comment and share your thoughts. Just don’t forget to sign in first.

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Autism Society
The Autism Society is the oldest and largest grassroots organization within the autism community.
Autism Society

Autism Society

The Autism Society is the oldest and largest grassroots organization within the autism community.

0 thoughts on “Tales of an Autism Dad: ‘Mother Warriors’ Scare the Heck Outta Me

  • Warrior parents sound awesome.

    I had a mom with crippling depression pulling a munchausen by proxy on top of my asperger’s.  NO ONE NOTICED.  That, or they politely looked away.  I think the very root of her depression and the abuse I went through was no one allowing her to become the warrior, back in the day that just wasn’t cool or acceptable.

    We have come a long, long way.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to read articles and comments that are so positive nowadays.  As for the woman who yelled at her kid, @Mangonese@xanga –  I was that kid, back in the day when people didn’t blink at that kind of stuff.  NOW we can see that as a red flag, we can see that is the parent having difficulty coping.  It’s not just a problem of not understanding, or not having empathy, it’s a problem of that parent themselves having pressure and stress, and sometimes their own mental or emotional disability.  Sometimes we forget to look at the parents who are raising the children, not realizing what they may have survived themselves, or the challenges they may still be living with.

    I say all this in a very personal way, as a very abused mentally disabled child who survived it all and gradually over several decades ~learned~ all the right kinds of empathy and understanding.  People may believe they really are doing the right thing and never realize how much damage they do.  But that includes all of us.  I know now that my mom didn’t get the help SHE needed, didn’t get the empathy and understanding and comfort SHE needed, didn’t get the support and moral compass that SHE needed from people all around her.  Good people who looked away.

    Don’t wait for people to do the ‘right thing’.  None of us can really earn that reward with perfect behavior.  This coming from a person living a lifetime of imperfect behavior.  We *all* need breaks.

  • My mother is a warrior mother. I am gifted and talented…I am also physically handicapped, and was public schooled in a district which did NOT take kindly to physical handicaps of any kind. They wanted me in a self-contained classroom, where I never would have had the opportunity to thrive and take honors/AP courses. She had the details of my disability and the accompanying evaluations stricken from my records, which was the best thing she ever did [note: in other states/districts, this may be/is different; I speak only from my perspective], because it prevented me from being pigeonholed. I NEVER had an IEP, and only got a 504 in sophomore year under my guidance counselor’s urging, which was dropped in college.

    Without my “warrior mother”, I wouldn’t be where I am. So I SALUTE all the warrior moms out there! Keep fighting!

  • Hey society makes us that way.  I had a very hard time being too nice and got pushed around. I found out that I do have to FIGHT for my child. My son is Type 1 diabetic and my nephew is Aspergers. He also lives with us. The school tried to tell my sister too put him into a class that didn’t understand him. We both had to act a heck of a lot more forward towards doctors, teachers, para-professionals, and principles for them to get the care they need. I found my husband and hers sitting back to watch more than help us. Why We have to fight more. Get more involved is my answer to men. See what goes into the care of your special needs child and make a difference not act or feel jealous or left out. You are so correct Please Get INVOLVED DADS> The way to becoming a victor is about getting into battle in the first place. My husband learned this and is great now that I asked him to help out more. Warrior moms need a little R&R sometimes too.

  • What you’ve written about the Warrior Moms includes any mother with a special needs kid, regardless of the flavor.  I guess I come under that category, and it isn’t something I chose. But when I was dealing with the district, and the IEP team, it became clear that I was going to need to do a lot more than just agree with everything they suggested. My daughter has dyspraxia, and dysgraphia (Not dyslexia, a common mistake.) and while they still don’t know much about it now, a decade ago it was virtually unknown. So they wanted to try things that “worked great for other kids”…who didn’t have either. They suggested ritalin and adderal…though she was not ADD, or ADHD. They suggested that she was not “college material” when she was ten. They also kindly said we should “lower our expectations for her future”.

    After that, I decided that they knew less about my daughter then I did. I started researching, and came to the conclusion that she needed an out of district placement, and spent 18 months making it happen. Everyone I know said I was nuts. “Lisa…they’re EXPERTS! You don’t know about this!”  Well the “experts” couldn’t even SPELL dyspraxia….so I was pretty sure they weren’t going to help my daughter much.

    As to the the part you’ve taken in your child’s life? Bravo. I’ve watched too many couples implode over managing their kids needs. I’m not sure “warrior mom” is something gender based…and warrior parent seems more apt. We do what we do, because the system will ignore our kids if we don’t. It’s cheaper short term to “park them”…or place them in centers that do little more than baby sit…but don’t really educate them.

    So bully for you…for taking your child’s part. Warrior Moms aren’t really that scary…we just are not willing to allow our kids to slip between the cracks…and neither were you!

  • Warrior moms drive me nuts sometimes because I feel that through the pressure of society, they become something they really aren’t and really shouldn’t be, especially if (I feel kind of bad saying this) they don’t posses a higher education, either about autism itself, or some other sort of education. I am not a parent of an autistic child, but have some (read: little, casual) experience with mentally and psychologically impaired teens, and a lot of times, I think having parents that pigeon-hole themselves into a single role, especially one that runs low on the compassion side, limits their development. Fighting for a person’s cause often leaves little energy to really care for the person themselves.

    My first sentence stems from a co-worker who has an autistic son. She has been in and out of courts for custody of her son (who I believe is 15ish?) because her ex claims she cannot provide a suitable home for him, and just through the things she tells me, I would tend to agree. She has a bag that has the wonderfully heart-warming phrase, “My kid is autistic, what the hell is wrong with yours?”, and loves to tell stories about her choice of discipline for him in the break room. She’s all for her son’s rights until it comes to “Mommy”, because she will ALWAYS know what’s best for him. Unfortunately, the scary part is, a lot of her stories, whether fabricated, embellished, or 100% true, describe instances of what I believe to be child abuse. My own father abused me and didn’t do some of the things she tells us (co-workers) about.

    A few months ago, I pulled into a gas station near work and guess who was there with her son? I kept my head low because, and I kid you not, she was screaming and yelling at him, threatening him, to get him to get back into her car. Everyone at the station was silent until someone tried to get into her face about it. The scene only escalated and I filled my tank and left. Now, as I said before, I don’t have an autistic child, but for a child who has a differently wired brain that typically makes it hard for them to communicate, screaming and yelling at them isn’t the best choice to make, in my mind. Everyone is human, but this is just beyond the bounds of what is human. 😐

    I say all this because it’s not atypical of the “Warrior Moms” I’ve been exposed to in the past. It seems a lot of parents are concerned with how their child isn’t functioning “properly”, or isn’t getting treated “fairly”, and in the process, they lose touch with their child. What has it all been about, then?

    Society has a false dichotomy for moms like this: on one hand, men expect women to be the “compassionate” and “illogical” and “soft” parent, and this standard makes it easy for women to rebel. On the other hand, “socially progressive” women (read: feminazis, not true feminists or equalists) perpetuate this nonsense that you cannot be anything they consider “weak”, which is the aforementioned set of adjectives. Couple this dichotomy with a social prejudice against a woman’s child, plus the propensity for misunderstanding and misinformation about autism, it’s easy to feel like someone needs to step up and fight. But as with everything, there is a time to fight, and a time to love.

    I applaud you going against the typical “dad” stereotype and stepping up as a father. You are so right — any obstacle in a child’s life is rarely about “fixing” rather than “helping” or “giving”. We don’t give kids enough credit or enough support, and I think it’s high time someone speak up and let the world know that everyone deserves compassion and a little sit-down time with those they care about.

    Basically, if you’re tl;dring:

    Fighting autism may work during certain hours of the day, but when your kid needs you, take a break and just be there for them.

  • This is amazing and I’m so happy you were willing to work with the autism and give everything you could to make it work. My little brother was diagnosed at an early age and my father refused to accept it. My parents just signed the divorce papers last week after multiple years of arguing.

  • I don’t think I could have said that better myself.  My wife is also a warrior mother who is fighting tooth and nail to get everything our daughter needs.  I have had the good fortune of working from home and spending a lot of time with our daughter.  Thanks for the blog.  I couldn’t quite articulate how I felt and that just about summed it  up.


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