As an Autistic Dad, Autism “Awareness” Month Brings Up Mixed Feelings for Me

Photo of Kris and his daughter. Kris is a biracial man who has short black curly hair and tinted glasses. He is smiling while sitting holding his 11 month old daughter who has short black hair in two ponytails and is wearing a pink jacket on a sunny day at a park.
Photo courtesy of the author.

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.

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Kris McElroy is a writer, artist, advocate, human services professional, and life coach. Born and raised in Maryland, he is a biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities who enjoys cooking, adaptive sports, traveling, creating, and spending time with his wife and family. He received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Multidisciplinary Human Services from Capella University.