Finding Our Balance
Contributed by Adam Kuda, Father and Director of Marketing, Comprehensive Early Autism Services
Balance is important in life. As a father of a child with autism, I struggle sometimes to find that balance between not setting limits on what my son can achieve because of his autism, and realizing when a moment is just too big for him that day. Last year, during an Easter egg hunt, I realized that I was not doing a great job finding that balance for him.
My wife and I knew going in to the event that there would be some challenges: the crowd, waiting in lines, and the chaotic scramble as hundreds of kids run around hunting for eggs. But we thought we could help him manage that moment by being there to hold his hand, calmly showing him how to put the eggs in the basket, and offering encouragement along the way.
Of course, there were the expected tears, but he found some eggs, put them in his basket, and seemed to have a relatively good time. We got our Easter photos and videos and were proud of how great of a job he did given the difficult situation.
Several weeks later, I stumbled on the video I took of my son hunting for eggs. I expected to smile as I watched that video of my wife holding his hand as they hunted for eggs, but the video was different from what I remembered. This time, my phone was muted. All of our positive words of encouragement, the fun music, and the kids’ laughter all around him were silenced. All that was left was the look of pain on his face standing among hundreds of other children as he just tried to get through the moment. I felt crushed; like I had finally experienced life from his perspective. I realized that there was no balance there. I was being selfish. I was only focused on what I wanted out of that day, in my moment as a father of a little boy on Easter. I was so concerned with putting him in his nice Sunday outfit, getting pictures with the Easter Bunny, and getting our video of him hunting for eggs, that I wasn’t really focused on his needs and what that moment felt like for him.
From that moment, I realized I needed to do a better job of finding balance for my son. Yes, as his father there are times when it’s my job to help set high goals for him, to help him get through difficult moments, and encourage him to get back up when he falls. My son works very hard with a team of occupational therapists, speech therapists, ABA therapists, and goes to pre-school at the special school district. Though it’s not always easy for him, we challenge him each day to grow. I know early intervention is important to help give him the best chance to live a fulfilling and independent life.
So as a father, I push him to challenge himself. But there are other times now when I don’t let the moment own us. And I just say, “it’s OK if you’re not feeling up for it today”, and we do something he enjoys instead. I’ve learned to not put too much pressure on him, or myself, to get the perfect picture with Santa. I don’t make him stay until the end of a birthday party just because everyone else is still there. I don’t try to force him to give me a high five when we say goodbye each day just because I want him to. I stopped trying to make my experience as a father be what I imagined it would look like. Instead, I focus on the wonderful relationship I have built with him—a loving bond between a little boy and his dad.