Editor's note: Welcome to our newest Tinton Falls blogger, Jerry Turning! We're glad to have you, and your unique father's perspective on autism. Thanks for writing.
My wife knew before I did. Well, maybe I knew but battled denial. Our pediatrician wasn't a bad guy, but he was way too "let's wait and see" for our taste. My Dad called in a favor and got us an appointment with a specialist. After trudging through an agonizing questionnaire, she met with us and watched Eric (three years old or so) pour through a bucket of plastic animal figurines until he found his obsession of the day: a little gray horse. She was blunt. I will never forget her words: "I can beat around the bush and tell you he has 'tendencies' and there are possible 'indicators', or I can cut to the chase... Eric has Autism."
I would be lying if I said I was devastated. I wasn't. I was... emboldened? To me, we had now identified the enemy. Once you identify your enemy you can plan your strategy and attack it. My wife seemed to drift back and forth between devastation and strength, a pattern that continues today. I remember driving to my parents' house (they were baby sitting Anna and Eric) and giving them the news. I will also never forget my Dad's response: "OK, how do we beat it?" Like father like son, I guess. The next four years would be a... roller coaster is too cliche'... more like a white water rapid ride.
During these past few years I have met and read about many families dealing with children on the spectrum. I have been fascinated with the two distinct philosophies that exist: Attack or Accept.
The Attack camp believes their children were injured, altered or somehow affected by an outside force (the vaccine-injury debate will be covered in a later post). They believe their child's condition can be treated and even healed. They seek out biomedical treatments, homeopathic therapies and behavioral interventions.
The Accept camp believes their child was born in God's image. He is different, but equal. He sees and interacts with the world differently, but is beautiful and perfect in his own way. Their role is to love and guide their child through his path in life and educate the world toward more tolerance and acceptance of special needs individuals.
Just recently I have arrived at a place smack-dab in the middle. I believe my son's Autism can be treated and managed. He has made remarkable progress and there is plenty of credit to spread around to his doctors, therapists, teachers, family and pharmacists. I also accept that he will never be "typical" and will always have unique challenges. I still attack. But I no longer attack out of fear or desperation. Now I attack his Autism with a calm, strategic confidence.
It is my hope that this blog will serve to comfort, inspire or teach somebody out there who is just today receiving the worst news of their life. Accept or Attack. You choose. But get up. Your child needs you.
Jerry recently began writing about his family's experiences with Autism in his personal blog (Bacon and Juice Boxes: Our Life With Autism). You can follow him on Twitter @jturning and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/baconandjuiceboxes).