cole-lee
Autism, Family

On Being an Autism Dad

July 20, 2016 • By

Recently, it was my son’s 18th birthday. It really doesn’t seem real that I now have two adult children. Both of my adult children are on the autism spectrum, which poses certain challenges when it comes to leading them to a life of independence. Let’s just say, it’ll be a while before I get to turn one of their bedrooms into a man-cave. To be honest with you, they’re both great guys and I really don’t mind having them around a few extra years.

My middle son (the one in the picture) is the one who just turned 18. I vividly remember gazing at him, when he was born, and imagining all of the wonderful things he would do when he grew up. I still believe he is going to do wonderful things, it’s just that the road to Wonderfulthingsville is going to be more like a winding, speedbump-laden path than a straight-shot expressway.

Now that the boys are both considered adults, I figured I’d share a few things about what it’s like to raise autistic children. With an estimated 1 in 10 children on the spectrum, chances are you have a child, or know a child, with autism. If you have a child with autism, I hope these help.

You wish you could do more to help them make friends.
This has been one of the toughest things for me. My heart breaks on a regular basis when I see my son ignored or rejected by other kids. Autism isn’t a visible, easily recognizable disability so other teenagers just tend to see him as weird or quirky. When they exclude him, he notices and it hurts. At youth group, he usually sat alone and came home feeling sad.

It’s hard for him to make friends online as well. Having a very black and white outlook on life, he’ll usually “call out” people for swearing or inappropriate behavior. As you can imagine, this opens the door for all sorts of negative reactions from people who don’t understand the real person behind the avatar.

Since it’s so difficult for my son to make friends, I try my best to be a good friend to him. I check in on him often, invite him to walk with me, and play games with him. He really is a treasure and I pray often for him to make good friends.

You have to learn a new language.
Imagine living with someone who only speaks Italian. You work hard at learning to speak Italian yourself, but then you realize that the person SPEAKS Italian, but UNDERSTANDS French. Then you have to learn French, but don’t get too comfortable because you might need to brush up on your German once in a while.

The point is, communication isn’t always easy between myself and my son. I’ve learned to ask a lot of clarifying questions before responding to what he says to me. I’ve also learned that I can’t always count on his tone of voice or body language to make things clearer. Unless he’s angry. Then it’s pretty clear.

I have to be patient, listen actively, and talk in ways that do not communicate too many ideas at a time.

Your hopes and aspirations for them have to remain fluid.
We all have hopes and aspirations for our children. We dream of them becoming successful writers, pastors, entrepreneurs, doctors, and missionaries. Sometimes our children don’t want to do the things we dream for them, and sometimes they just don’t have the capacity.

When I heard about Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison, I thought, he could do something amazing! He might. Or he might not. Either way, I’m ok with it. He IS someone amazing and I love him no matter what.

Earlier today, I took him down to the local community college to get enrolled. He wants to be a medical transcriptionist. He has mad typing skills and I’m super proud of him.

You have to take initiative for them.
My son likes to be alone in his room…a lot. He likes things with screens. He likes the computer, the phone, and the television. When company comes over, he goes to his room. It’s not that he doesn’t like company, or exercise, or creativity. He just needs someone to take him by the hand and draw him out.

For many autistic kids, hypersensitivity to the world around them is a problem and there’s comfort in being alone and focusing on a screen to tune everything else out. If he hasn’t gotten exercise in a while, I’ll invite him on a walk. If there’s a fun activity he might like, I have to encourage him to get involved. Sometimes he protests to playing a game or hanging out with the family, but he’s almost always glad that he did.

You have to remember that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.
I used to pray a lot that God would heal my son. I know now that he is just as God wanted him. As Temple Grandin says, “Different, not less.” A disability is a bend in the road, not the end of the road. My son has taught me so much about childlike faith, friendship, and love. Being his father has made me a better person; more caring, patient, and kind.

I wouldn’t trade the 18 years I’ve spent with him for anything. I see Jesus in him. I love the way he worships (he plays bass on the church worship team), I love the way he jokes with me (he has incredibly well-timed farts), and I love his smile. He really is fearfully and wonderfully made.

If you have a child with autism, I hope you don’t grow weary. Keep dreaming for him or her, and be an amazing friend.


writing-questions
Writing

5 Questions You Might Be Afraid to Ask About Writing

June 21, 2016 • By

Now that my first novel is almost here (it’s currently in the formatting and cover design phase), I thought I’d try to answer a few questions about the writing and publishing process from my experience. I’ve had the privilege of visiting with other aspiring authors and certain questions seem to come up over and over again.

Here are the top 5

How do you come up with ideas to write about?

The main concept for “Son of the Age” came from growing up with an absentee father. I had to learn what it meant to become a man without my dad around and I know that’s true for many other men. So, in this case, the idea came from my own life. “Write what you know” is a mantra often spoken by writers. If you can turn a personal experience into an engaging story, then you’ve got gold because you already know what’s happening inside your character’s head. Think about what you’ve been through, and what you’ve learned, and start there.

How long does it take to write a book?

It really depends. Initially, I had a goal to write 1,000 words a day and be done with the first draft in two months. Unfortunately, 1,000 words felt overwhelming so I skipped a lot of days. It took me almost three years to write the first half of the book because of that. When I lowered my daily word count to 250, I got the second half of the book done in three months! The moral of the story is to set goals that you’re likely to keep and you can probably get it done in less than a year.

How do you keep your thoughts organized?

“Son of the Age” started with a bunch of ideas and a loose thread to follow. I use a writing program called Scrivener. It allowed me to write in a non-linear fashion. I had a folder for each chapter and, when I got an idea, I’d drop it in the appropriate folder. It was like adding clay to a statue a little at a time and, when I was done, I had my statue. Whether it was a work of art or not remains to be seen! If you’re even THINKING about writing, I would highly recommend that you give Scrivener a try. It’s used by professionals everywhere and I wouldn’t try tackling a book without it.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Sometimes you’re just not sure how to get from point A to point B and sometimes you just don’t feel inspired. That’s when I would go for a walk. Unplugging, stepping away, getting some fresh air, and removing distractions does absolute wonders. When you let your brain relax, it comes up with some amazing solutions to your problems! On many of my walks, I would listen to instrumental music that fit the mood to my story. The experimental/celtic improv CD “From Silence” by Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley became the soundtrack to my book and listening to it while I walked unlocked idea after idea for me.

Are you going to self-publish or publish traditionally?

I get asked this one a lot. Initially, I was going to submit to publishers but, when I heard that traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing and promotions just like self-published authors do, I decided that I would rather do all that work for a 70% royalty instead of a measly 15%. I attended a writers workshop recently, taught by a very successful author of 130 books. When I asked him what the advantage of a traditional publishing deal was, he said, “The prestige of saying you’re published by Random House.” I’m OK without that. The other thing I’ve enjoyed about self-publishing is having full creative control. My novel has quite a few personally inspired elements to it and I couldn’t imagine letting a publisher mess with them.

So those are just a few things I learned from my writing journey thus far. I really hope they help. If you have any questions about writing or publishing your own book, feel free to leave it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.