This is a guest post from Mark L. Olson for Father’s Day 2013. Mark lives in Henderson, Nevada where he is the only parent of a 17 year old daughter with autism; President & CEO of LTO Ventures, a 501(c)(3) non-profit company developing live/work/play communities for adults with autism; and, a relentless advocate for choice in housing and employment. Facebook: www.facebook.com/LTOVentures
I was having a text conversation with a friend the other night (hey, it’s 2013) and in it I revealed that I’ve spent only three nights away from my 17 year old daughter with autism in the last six years. (On further reflection, I also realized that is exactly how many dates I’ve had over that period of time, but I digress.)
In those six years, I’ve rescued Lindsay from near drowning after a seizure, dropped everything to pick her up in the middle of the day after she’s been suspended from programs, and nurtured her development from adolescence through puberty and into the early years of womanhood.
Her mother bailed on us two months after we split from our 15-year marriage and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. In many ways I’m glad the choice for her was that clear because the choice for me was equally clear. In the past six years I’ve been called many things…most recently a saint…for my devotion and sacrifice. But really, I’m an Autism Dad. There’s a lot of us, too.
And Father’s Day is a big deal for us.
Before I go any farther, and I think I speak for every Autism Dad…we love Autism Moms. All of you. As hard as it is for us, we know it’s way harder for you. You are the Ginger Rogers to our Fred Astaire…you do everything we do (and more) except backwards and in heels.
If you’re a married Autism Mom, you’re trying to fulfill society’s expectations of you as a woman, wife and mother. If you’re a single, working mom with a kid on the spectrum, you’re trying to build a career, put food on the table and make the best life for your kid. There are conferences, websites, blogs and Facebook pages where you can find and draw strength from other Warrior Mothers.
But less well known is the fact that there are a lot of great men devoting their lives to their kids on the spectrum, working hard to hold their families and marriages together, and building better lives for the boys and girls who eventually will become adults with autism.
Autism Dads take many forms. We are husbands who stayed and re-committed ourselves to our families after we got the diagnosis. Check out Autism Daddy on Facebook (www.facebook.com/autismdaddy) and “like” his page to follow his story. We are singletons who remain good fathers and committed to our kids lives even though the union with their mothers didn’t last. And increasingly, we are men on the spectrum who are marrying and having kids with autism. I highly recommend following Brian R. King on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sozensho).
On this Father’s Day I want challenge all the good men, husbands and fathers in the autism community to do more to make the world a better place for our kids on the spectrum. Many of us have started companies, raised capital, hired employees, and fought for legislation. We need to put our collective experience and expertise together to create a lot more innovative and affordable residential options for our kids to live in when they reach adulthood and we’re not around anymore. We need to create a lot more employment and income opportunities for our kids so they aren’t reliant on government supports that may or may not be there in 20 years. And we need to be role models for all the new Autism Dads that a prevalence rate of 1 in 51 is producing.
Where can you find us? We’re the guys with the lost look in the back of the room at the support group meeting full of Autism Moms trying to find information to help us figure it all out. We’re the guys at the park teaching sign language to the other children so they’ll want to play with our non-verbal kids. We’re the guys in the grocery store reading labels trying to figure out what foods our kids can eat.
So if you see us out and about on Father’s Day, please don’t be afraid to say hi. Flash a knowing smile or head nod our way. Give us a random hug or a fist bump. I promise we’ll share it back. We’re all in this together just trying to do the right thing for our kids.
P.S. In August, Lindsay will spend four nights at a summer camp for kids with autism run by the Torino Foundation in the mountains just west of here. Without me. I think it will be great for both of us.