Autism “Awareness” Month brings up mixed feelings for me. In one sense, I have excitement because I am a proud autistic dad of an amazing almost 1-year-old and it has been such joy. But I also have frustration because of the stereotypes and discrimination I’ve experienced as an autistic person that left me feeling like I was incapable of being married, working, being an active community member, living independently, and being a dad.
During previous Autism Awareness months, the array of ads, slogans, campaigns, and images centered on things like finding a cure or portraying autism as a puzzle piece, as something missing or needing to be fixed, added to my feeling that being autistic meant something was wrong with me. This had a negative impact on my self-esteem, but therapy combined with autistic self-advocacy organizations helped me discover that being autistic doesn’t mean I am broken or incapable. It means I process the world around me in a different way.
Becoming an autistic dad has reinforced that I have many strengths and I am always learning, adapting, and growing. When I found out I was going to be a dad, I was both excited and extremely nervous, as I was unsure what it would look like to be an autistic dad with multiple disabilities and how that would impact my parenting abilities. I was worried about my sensory and cognitive overload, my emotional regulation, and my communication. I was also worried my physical disabilities, especially my mobility, and how I would perform tasks.
While I was already used to relying on tools, strategies, and different resources, I found little help from resources that I’d previously turned to when seeking information about this life transition. Books and articles I found catered to parents of autistic children. I started to panic because I needed to have time to prepare for everything but didn’t know where to get support. Now, I sit back and laugh because I prepare to the best of my ability, but even on the good days with total preparation, I must practice immense flexibility and patience (which doesn’t come easy for me) because that’s dad life with a young toddler.
Dad life has shown me the importance of self-advocacy and has helped me recognize how much I work behind the scenes communicating and preparing. I have to consider my access needs, my daughter’s access needs, my partner’s access needs, and how they all may interact with our different schedules, work, and day-to-day tasks. This gives me the best chance to show up as my authentic self, participate as fully as possible, and be fully present for my daughter and family.
I am still navigating what self-advocacy looks like across multiple dynamics of difference, as we are an interabled, interracial, intercultural, neurodiverse family. I am also trying to remember to be kind and gentle with myself, which includes realizing and accepting that I am capable of being a dad despite any previous messages that told me I wasn’t.
So, this year during Autism Awareness Month and every day after it, I am affirming that I am a proud autistic dad with multiple disabilities. I encounter challenges and joys like other parents. I have strengths and I am working on things like other parents. I adapt and use strategies like other parents. My autism and other disabilities do not make me any less of a dad or person. Every day looks different because no one day in the life of parenthood is the same. So, I am choosing to celebrate the part of my life and story that includes being a proud autistic dad with multiple disabilities to my amazing daughter.