One of the first things I tell dads (and moms) when talking to them about their child with autism is that they have to deal with expectations completely being destroyed at such an early age.
Dads immediately set expectations of their unborn children when they find out they’re expecting. “My son is going to be a fire fighter just like me!” “My daughter is going to be the head cheerleader!” “I can’t wait to teach my son to tie a fly and go fishing with me every year in the mountains.”….on and on it goes.
I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with setting expectations like that. I’m sure our parents did it for us and theirs for them…it’s a natural thing to do. Besides, we want our children to like the things we like. We want them to cheer for the same sports teams or take an interest in our passions…it’s natural.
Until your child is diagnosed with autism. BOOM! There go the expectations. I remember asking the doctor that diagnosed my son if he’d be able to do various things…”will he be able to play soccer? what about music, travel, books, language????” WHAT’S HE GOING TO BE LIKE?
Unfortunately there is no answer for those questions. Will my son be self-sufficient? I don’t know. Will he date, drive, get married? I don’t know. Will he hold a job? I don’t know. See, it quickly goes beyond “will he be the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.”
I would guess that a parent of a typical child has their expectations of their child blown apart by the time the child is 12-to-15 years old…maybe later. You’ll know if your child will be a music prodigy or a sports superstar or a math genius by about that age…I guess.
My expectations for my son were destroyed at age 2 1/2…Gone. Not coming back. Forever.
That was really hard for me and it sank me into a pretty ugly depression that was hard to deal with. It of course wasn’t my son’s fault but it was hard for me to find any common ground with him at that age…he didn’t want to do the typical things children his age did and I know I took out some of my sadness, frustration, depression, anger on him.
I’ve since learned to not have expectations of my son. I don’t know if he’ll ever speak clearly. I don’t know if he’ll ever go to the movies or to New York City like I did with my dad age age ten. I don’t know if he’ll play basketball like me or have a love for language or creativity or anything like that. Sure I HOPE some of that happens–but I’m not holding my breath.
Then there was yesterday. My wife mentioned earlier in the week that she and the kids were at a friend’s house and William (now almost 6-years-old) was playing in the yard and grabbed a ball and started tossing it in the basketball hoop…over and over and over…and making it!
Our friend commented on how good he seemed to be and how he was making baskets and really enjoying it…so my wife mentioned it to me.
Yesterday I took William to the local sports store and we bought a basketball. We then went to a nearby park with a hoop and played basketball for almost an hour! Now when I say we “played basketball” I mean he would shoot underhand shots for 5 minutes then run and pick up sticks or go swing or slide…but then he’d come back and shoot more underhanded shots.
He actually made some of them and was so happy! I would of course make a big deal out of every shot he made and would encourage him to keep trying when it would come up short.
But we did something that I NEVER EXPECTED. We shared an hour together just the two of us, quietly shooting baskets.
Now is William the next Pistol Pete Marovich? I don’t know about that. And I don’t know if he’ll grasp the dribble, defense, pass concept of basketball enough to be on a team…but WHO CARES…we shot hoops together.
So for you dads out there–yes, you’re expectations are going to be shattered…but that doesn’t mean that later on some can’t be revived and maybe tweaked just a little bit…you never know!