My husband, Wayne, has agreed to share his story on my blog and I've divided it into three posts - you can read part one here if you missed it (it was written shortly after Liam's diagnosis 2.5 years ago). This is part two and was written (a little over a year ago)
It has been a year since I first wrote about my son and his autism diagnosis. It has been a challenging but rewarding year. First, my son is now 3.5 years and is a very happy child. In the past year he has gone through a lot: 1) he started with four days of therapy a week; 2) he has since progressed to going to a half-day school program here; and 3) has adopted the gluten free diet (which has seemed to help). With all this he is still only using an occasional word - but is progressing in all of his other targets quite well. In particular his social skills have improved greatly along with his small and gross motor skills.
Some observations I have had in the year of having a child diagnosed with autism: I am surprised at how much energy he takes up. We are constantly working with him and trying to get him to do things and it is quite tiring (I cannot imagine the pain potty training is going to be). Add to that the stress of the tenure track and life has been quite interesting on that front. We still have an 11 year old as well and raising her is nothing like raising him - two very different stories to tell there. It seems that our previous parenting experience means absolutely nothing and everyday learning with him has been a real challenge. I am amazed at how many people say, 'he doesn't look different' to us when they are told he has autism. He is a very good kid but when his frustration level rises and he starts to 'head bang' or if he doesn't talk to the store lady or he doesn't like people touching him - it is amazing how many people perceive him to be a 'bad' kid or us to be 'bad' parents. There is a large misunderstanding of what autism is and what it is all about in our community. The expense of having a child with autism is tremendous. Even with a good health plan, we figure it cost us over $10,000 this year out of pocket and that is not including his gluten free diet. It is a strain on a family (we have had to give up cable, my wife has become a 'coupon queen' and no vacations this year) but it has pulled us closer together in many ways.
In total, having my son has been the best thing for me. My life really does have a new meaning. I used to think publishing five (5) articles a year was an accomplishment but now having my son play 'Connect Four' or sing 'Old McDonald' with me is now what I aim for. I have come to terms with my trading potential 'guru' status in my field to being better 'daddy' status in my home (and that was surprising hard to do upon reflection). I still often become sad seeing the struggles that he constantly encounters but happy and heartened that he takes them on with a determination and rigor. I did not think it would be this kind of struggle but it has but with most things you have to work really hard to achieve the outcomes and successes become worth so much more.