By John Seigner, Director of Supported Independent Living

I am the father of a non-verbal twenty-eight year old son who is severally autistic. He is a happy, healthy adult now – but, his mother and I had some seriously challenging periods as he grew up.  My approach to parenting is often goal oriented; always looking at milestones or feedback which don’t always come.  As a man, it was difficult in the early years to express emotions related to this, which led to stress. Inevitably, the stress led to anxiety. Due to my family history, I was fortunate to be able to identify the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which led me to seek the appropriate help. Over the years, I’ve experienced the common levels of stress due to circumstances, and have sought help on multiple occasions from mental health professionals.  I speak from experience that some challenges can lead to mental health problems that many men often do not acknowledge, much less seek help for. As a Dad, I encourage others to access the support systems and communities around you.

It’s not all challenges, though. Not even close. There are endless unique rewards. For example, imagine giving your child a simple chore, such as unloading the dishwasher, and then have them do it exactly the same every time – without any complaining. Out of thoughtfulness, my son quietly gets my paper every morning, and will fetch me a beer when he gets one for himself. How about a road trip where you never hear, “how much further Dad?”, or, going shopping and not having to say “I’m sorry you can’t have another toy.”  My twenty-eight year old son Andrew is non-verbal and no doubt has some interesting behaviors. However, his uniqueness has lead to many acquaintances and friendships. Consider the understanding policeman, who bought Andrew a coffee after he bolted from home, or the many families we related to through support groups and activities surrounding autism. Andrew has grown into a true gentleman, and demonstrates his respect for others every day.

My job as a parent is to help my children be happy and productive and I refuse to beat myself up if the outcomes have been less than perfect.  I played the cards I was dealt to the best of my ability. As Fathers, that is all we can ask of ourselves. I never for a moment regret having and loving an autistic child.  People sometimes say to me, “Andrew is lucky to have you as a father”, I say to them “I’m lucky to have Andrew as a son.

Do you have an interest in Fatherhood and Autism? Below are a few resources our Ambassador team has provided for us to share on the topic!

Lastly, if you’re in Calgary and interested in Father related support groups, we encourage you to check out FAN – Father’s Autism Network, a community hosted and supported by Autism Calgary.

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