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Facing ASD – One Father’s Journey from Denial to Acceptance

Picture of girl with her father

By Andrew Hanson, July 2020

To all you fathers who’ve struggled to embrace your special child’s diagnosis and engage fully in their needs, you are not alone. I share with you my experience.

“She does meet criteria for a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum,” said the Child Psychologist at Yakima Children’s Village on October 15, 2016. The words hit me like a gut punch, confirming to me that which I had fought for the last 10 months to deny in my heart. I’d looked for every reason to not believe that the odd behaviors and symptoms manifest by my precious girl were outside the wide spectrum of normal behavior. I’d clung to doubt like a life raft that would somehow save me from losing the dreams I’d had for her and the experience I had expected of fatherhood. Furthermore, not only was I faced with the potential of unfulfilled dreams, it opened me to a spectrum of worries and challenges I was not ready to face. And so I argued that I didn’t want her to be “limited by a diagnosis.”

In retrospect I have to recognize the inherent selfishness and self-protection of my denial. I certainly wasn’t protecting my child from the reality she was already facing, I was only protecting myself. I thank God for my courageous wife Kristen, for she had long accepted the possibility of an Autism diagnosis and had been preparing her heart for the mission of loving and raising a special needs child. Rather than running from it, she let her fear move her into a position of protection for our child by seeking the diagnosis so that she could get the early intervention services so critical to Hannah’s success.

Men, we cannot remain in denial about a diagnosis, because to do so separates us from the reality that our special child already faces, thus abandoning them to face a world more threatening to them than the neurotypical world we grew up in, the world we wanted for them. In order to be the father that our special child needs, we must have the courage of a mother’s love, and mama bear don’t run from nothing’ not even a diagnosis.

So from one father to another, I encourage you to embrace the needs and unique wonders of your special child. There is a quote by Joseph Campbell that says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” I can tell you for a fact this is true. In embracing Hannah’s Autism and engaging fully to meet her needs she has blossomed into a charming and…quirky 7 year old who loves to spell big words, but is afraid of magnetic door locks, who bounces out her troubles on her trampoline and munches raw broccoli as her comfort food. In embracing her for all of who she is, we have discovered a true delight.