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The JOY of Being an Autism Dad

November 11, 2020
By Eric Hazeldine
autism dad

Learning about Finley's Autism diagnosis at age three was overwhelming. I cried because I was scared and didn't know what it meant for Finley or our family. His whole life flashed before my eyes. Would he be ok? Would he be happy? Could he enjoy himself and his family and friends?

Finley was our first child. As I reflect on the time of his diagnosis and the years following, our world quickly became intense and stressful. Our singular focus was to get Finley everything we thought he would need to develop. The right school, the right therapists, the right activities.

When Finley was 6 or 7, I noticed that he communicated better with me (and his mom and younger brother) than he did with others. I realized that he was comfortable making eye contact with us, but not others. It became clear that the comfort of the family bond was helping him communicate better with us.

It was a lightbulb moment. I realized how important my relationship with Finley was to his development. With me, he had a "head start" and was more expressive. He gave more within our family unit than he could give to the world around him. Our relationship blossomed, and it was reciprocal. I was finally open to receive from Finley what all parents experience - the joy of seeing the world through their child's eyes. And, as our connection grew, I could clearly see how meaningful our relationship was for him. Being present and meeting him where he was socially and emotionally was me showing up for Finley in the best possible way. It was my job to give him the opportunity to have experiences and make memories when he was most comfortable and able to be himself. And this is when Finley is at his best. This is when Finley can take it all in. As a dad, watching this happen... well, it can be thrilling.

And, while I can still get anxious when I think of Finley's future, spending time with him now is something that gives me comfort and joy. And I am not near as anxious as I used to be, because I know he is well on his way to being the best person he can be.

Finley says that the weekend is "when I don't have to go to school, and you don't have to go to work." It feels great when someone else is excited to spend time with you on the weekend. So, I'm really looking forward to this weekend and spending time with Finley. We may go golfing on Saturday with his brother and grandpa. On the golf course, Finley likes to drive the cart, and I like to be his passenger.

Penelope Khuri says:
November 12, 2020 09:40 AM CST

This is beautiful. Thank you Eric for being so willing to share your experience as an autism dad.

Imran Rahman says:
November 12, 2020 12:13 PM CST
What a great read and helpful to see how Finley takes in the world with you and the Family. Great read and great Dad!

Elias Fernandez says:
November 12, 2020 01:13 PM CST
My daughter Paulina, was also diagnosed around age 3 and it was a rollercoaster of thoughts & emotions. And you are right about it being a joy and thrill to see & hear the world through their eyes. The way they see the world with such a pure and innocent mindset, it always leaves me in awe. Good job dad!!! Keep up the good work.

Cathy Tufts says:
November 12, 2020 04:28 PM CST
Beautifully written. Thank you Eric.

Sherri Thompson says:
November 13, 2020 08:33 AM CST
Eric thank you for sharing this beautiful story! You are such an incredible Dad to your AMAZING son! Your 2nd grade teacher is beaming with pride☀️
Sure do love you♥️

Claudia Swisher says:
November 13, 2020 09:18 AM CST
Oh, Eric. I am so proud of you and your fierce advocacy for Finley. You are JUST the dad he needs to grow and thrive. This old teacher is in tears.

Phyllis Browning says:
November 13, 2020 04:02 PM CST
This is beautifully written by a father who is truly rising to the occasion of great leadership for his son. As a retired teacher, it is wonderful to have a father share his,” turning on his light bulb” moment. His honesty should be a model for all fathers.