When I learned we were going to have twins, I knew my journey as a father would be a little different. As if to prove the point, our boys arrived ten weeks early and spent over two months in NICU. While there, Martin developed a protein allergy that caused a life-threatening perforation in his intestines. Two weeks after Colin came home, all his systems shut down and I had to revive him with CPR. And there we were, in our apartment, two frightened parents with two tiny babies attached to heart monitors.
Yet this was just the beginning of our medical odyssey: Colin developed a very rare pediatric lung disease, and has spent the majority of his life with an oxygen tube slithering down the back of his shirt and trailing behind him. Then, when he was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with autism.
This last bit -- autism -- has proven to be the most challenging experience of all. It has also proven to be the most rewarding and the most enlightening.
Here are some of the things I've learned about fatherhood now that I have a boy with autism:
Worrying what other people think is a waste of time.
Before becoming a father I worried too much about the opinions of others. Then I went out in public wearing a backpack carrying an oxygen tank attached to my son's nose via a long plastic tube. Add to this picture standard toddler tantrums and autism-fueled verbal outbursts, and suddenly I began to think of myself and my family as a veritable freak show. That feeling lasted a short time, until it dawned on me that this is my life, this is my family, and I'm damn proud of us all. No one has to walk in my shoes, nor I in theirs, so worrying what they think of me -- of us -- is pointless.
My child is more than a diagnosis.
If I told you my son had cancer, you would think of him as a boy with an illness. When it comes to developmental issues, however, there is a tendency to define the child by the condition. So while it's true that Colin has autism, it's not the entirety of his being: there is the boy who loves to clomp around in my shoes and laugh at his feet; there is the boy who loves to give nose kisses and hug the cats and tell us that his favorite letter is Z; and there is the 3-year-old who asks us how to spell the words "elephant" and "yellow," and sees the letters "CUXW" on an electrical box and proclaims, "Sounds likes saxaphone!" These things define Colin just as much, if not more, than his autism.
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