A father’s journey through autism

April 5, 2014

Sometimes, if you’re open to it and lucky enough, you get to meet some exceptional human beings. Patrick Schoch is one of them. For those of you who believe there aren’t any single men out there who have the whole package–brains, humor, looks and heart, well, you’re wrong. Here’s one. He’s a great dad to a young son who, by the way, has autism. And the guy can write, too. I’ll let him take it from here.

A Father’s Journey through Autism by Patrick Schoch

autism stim lining up objects on floor

Lining up condiments. Neatly.

So, it’s National Autism Awareness Month and Carol asked me if I would be interested in being a guest writer for her blog. I immediately jumped at the idea. Not because writing is going to give me a break from working on remodeling my house (I’ve spent so much time on my knees one might think I’m an aspiring actress trying to make it in Hollywood), but because I can impart a little piece of my journey to others, and hopefully someone will be able to use a little of my story to help them out.

So, it’s all about autism. To start this out, I am not an expert in autism. I don’t have autism. My experience comes from my 6-year-old little boy who was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). So in writing this, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be autistic, I can only show you how I’ve dealt with it.

Many people ask me what autism is. And my answer is this: it’s a spectrum. There are so many different examples and different stereotypes to what an ASD individual looks like that you can’t pin it down. The different stereotypical activities that spring to mind are these: no eye contact, hitting, biting, lining items up, tantrums, no emotion, isolation. Or you can just watch the 1988 movie Rain Man. By the way, I hate that movie because so many people have asked if that is what my baby bear is like. Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man was on the extreme end of the spectrum, and suffered from more than just ASD. But that goes back to my point of autism being a spectrum and there are many different facets to it. But all those are just coping mechanisms.

I can’t tell you what autism is, but I can give you an analogy. Imagine if you will, a world that looks kind of like ours, full of people that looks like us and speak our language. But the difference is that the stuff they do doesn’t make sense. They wear hats in places they shouldn’t. They wear clothes that don’t make sense. They speak your language, but say it in a way that is complete gibberish. So you find something that make sense. You draw pictures, you build things, your organize items, you create. And sometimes the people that look like you tear your stuff down, or yell at you for drawing a picture, or take all the things you organized and make a mess of them. And you can’t communicate with them so you isolate yourself. Or you throw a tantrum. Or you hit and bite to keep people away from you. Or you try to separate yourself as much as possible by not showing emotion or making eye contact. But you do all this to cope with the strange world around you. And that is the best example I can give of what autism is. Someone trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense.

I saw a picture on the internet of a woman holding a screaming child and it said, “My child is not giving me a hard time… My child is having a hard time.” And that is what it all comes down to in my journey with autism. My baby bear is trying to make sense of this strange world, and my need to help him on his journey.

My journey with autism started when my baby bear was 14 months old. His mother was saying that our little bear was speaking a dozen words 4 months prior and now is only speaking half a dozen. We took him to the doctor. The doctor said he could have hearing problems, or that there is a 1% chance he could have autism. Well, after a couple procedures and a couple of tests, they concluded that he didn’t have hearing problems. I remember when the doctor told us the news.

Let me paint a picture for you. I’m 5’10”, I weigh 200 pounds. I hit the gym very regularly, so I carry my weight in my shoulders, not my gut. The doctor was about 5’6”, and he probably weighed 130 pounds. When he said the problem didn’t appear to be his hearing, and that he could possibly be autistic, he kept looking at me and backing away. Now I don’t know what kind of reactions he had received before, but for him to act that way I figured they were negative.

As far as I was concerned, I was relieved. He wasn’t taking my child away from me and giving him this condition. He just told me that my son is going to take a new set of skills to help him grow into manhood. No one said that being a parent is easy, but it’s a labor of love and I wanted to be the best dad for my little bear that I could. So soccer, t-ball, and after school musicals went out the window, and they were replaced with IEP’s, occupational/speech therapy, special needs classes, and a number of institutions and organizations that are helping make little bear’s world a little less strange.

boy autism playing in fountain
I’ve said before that there are many different mannerisms that may or may not manifest. One that I found did manifest itself in my little bear is water. He is drawn to water. He loves water. He will turn on a water fountain just to watch it. He takes two to three baths a day. Every time we see a fountain he has to stop and look at it. Here is a story that will always stick out in my mind. One time I took him to the Blackhawk Plaza to feed the ducks. To those that haven’t been, there is a large pond there with a huge population of ducks that you can feed. Well, we bought some food and started feeding the ducks. There were some in the pond so my little bear leaned over the side of the bridge to make sure those ducks got food too. In his exuberance, he leaned a little too far over and fell in. I rushed to pick him up and started pulling his clothes off of him, because it was a chilly February day.

Without having a change of clothes handy, I peeled off my shirt and sweatshirt and wrapped him up in them. I then walked back to the car through Draegers (a very high end supermarket), wearing only a wife-beater and carrying a little boy who couldn’t stop smiling. Now we’ve been back there a number of times, and he has learned not to lean so far over to feed the ducks, and I have learned that when he does I need to hold him by the back of his pants. But he will go to the fountain on one end and take off his shoes and socks and put his feet in the water if the weather is inclined to such behavior.

So, what has my journey with autism taught me?

Who doesn’t like Sponge Bob?

It taught me appreciate “different.” My little bear lets me into his world as much as he can, but because his world is always changing, I have to adapt to keep up. We went to a special education dinner at his school a year ago and I told him to get dressed. He came out wearing his SpongeBob pajamas. Well, that is what he wanted to wear, so that is what he wore to the dinner, and he loved every minute of it.

It taught me to stop and appreciate people, because we are all just trying to get by. The other day I was at the hardware store and I asked one of the workers for help. When he spoke I could tell he was mentally challenged, so I made it a point to smile and thank him and tell him he was doing a good job.

And it taught me to stop and look at the world through his eyes. To appreciate the beauty in what he is doing to make our crazy world a little less crazy to him. Like all parents, I have his art work stuck all over my fridge… but I also have it drawn on the interior my car, painted on our windows, drawn on my lunch box, and scribbled on his furniture. And while some of it gets cleaned up… some of it gets immortalized and kept for prosperity. Because it’s not just my life, it’s our life together.

So, I said before that I am not an expert in autism, and I truly am not, but I know someone who is. And while autism is a journey I never intended to take, I have a little tour guide that takes my hand and shows me the way.

© 2014 Patrick Schoch

23 comments on “A father’s journey through autism
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Patrick, What a great post. Your last line really stands out as the kindest acceptance and gift of love I have ever read.I hope the world is good to you and your family and that your journey keeps the wind at your backs.Your physical stature belies the largess in your heart. Your little bear is one blessed child.

  2. Pat says:

    What a great post and what a lucky little boy to have a dad like you who is willing to embrace him as he is a wonderfully unique human being. I am going to share this with all the colleagues I work with in my learning support department. And yes, let’s celebrate being different.

  3. This is so powerful and should be in major newspapers…every where…what a wonderful, loving message…keep putting it out for others to see. Some teachers especially…who tend to have very little patience with those who are different.

  4. A beautiful story well told. Thanks!

  5. Meg Root says:

    I loved this post for what it taught me about autism, children with autism making sense of a confusing world, and parenting as a collective–because we have to help each other along the way. But I also loved this post because it made me smile from ear to ear in parts–“He came out wearing SpongeBob pajamas. Well, that’s what he wanted to wear . . .” Parenting takes us out of our comfort zone every day. When I get that feeling the next time, I will remember your story and appreciate the journey with a smile on my face.

  6. A beautiful story. Your little guy is lucky to have you, you’re a wonderful father.

  7. Jennifer Wagner says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read such a beautiful and caring explanation of Autism. Ever since we started seeing characters on TV with Aspergers, and Aspergers so much in the news, which I know is just a higher functioning side of the Autism spectrum, I haven’t thought of seen this side of it in a while. Your family is lucky to have each other.

  8. Patrick, what a wonderful gift you have given us today. Although you aren’t the expert on Autism, you are an expert on loving unconditionally- and finding the joy in the journey. My sister was diagnosed with Aspergers in her 40s and I wish I had understood more while we were growing up. I guess I can only start from here. Thanks for helping me understand a little more. Virginia

  9. One of my sons is on an IEP too, but not for autism – his diagnosis is a sort of catch-all Apraxia that tells me & you nothing. But I want to actually mention my older son. When we moved from Boulder to Rochester, MN, when he was 4, he was upset. But he didn’t know how to express it, so he drew Sharpie X’s all over the furniture, shoes, heater and doors. Then he peeled off the bathroom wallpaper. We laugh now, and sort of then, understanding that he was upset about the move.

  10. Jennifer Steck says:

    We all need to learn how to appreciate “different”. Your story is heartwarming. While we still have a long way to go, I’m so glad that we’ve come so far. 🙂

  11. I am a retired educator.
    I ‘retired’ because our administration desired to have all of our ‘learners’ take the same journey instead of allowing them to take their teachers on theirs.
    The world would be a much better place if we all appreciated ‘gift of the individual’.
    Kuddos Patrick. Kuddos.

  12. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. What a great perspective…and excellent insights from which all of us can learn. All the best to you and your baby bear as you continue your journey.

  13. Damon LaFargo says:

    I think it was 2005 when I met Pat, his son was not yet born. My son Jacob was about four. We have simular pragmatic views and twisted sense of humor so so we got along just fine.
    It wasn’t that long after that Jacob was diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, and my journy into world of autism began. It began that day, the day I noticed he wasn’t playing with the other kids at the preschool. While they played Jacob was off in his own world.
    We discussed it with his pediatrition, he was quick to dismiss or concerns and basically told us we were making a big deal about nothing. Still, we were not so sure so when my wife saw a free autism screening by the wonderful people at happy talkers we signed up. There was a speech pathologist, occupational therepast, and a pediatrition trained to diagnose autism.
    After meeting with them all we were told by the pediatrition that because he wasn’t our pediatrition he couldn’t diagnose Jacob and handed us a stack of recomended tests : neurologist, audiologist, and a opthomologist, (Jacob has fairly severe vision correction) .
    I handed his Dr. The stack of recomendations and without looking at me thumbed through them saying, “denied, denied, denied,” when he got to the last one he said, “opthamologist?, Jacob has glasses, hadden’t you noticed?”
    I am 5’10, 200lbs also and hit the gym on occassion and he was slightly built and apparently unaware he had just really ticked me off. I was sering red, so I said nothing at all for a minute then looked at him and said, please collect all my son’s files, you are no longer his doctor.”
    Before you can accept a diagnosis of autism you kind of have to have a funeral for the kid you thought you had. The one that was going to play pop warner, and little league and all that stuff. But you get to learn so much.
    It is a different world, a parallel world perhaps consider this:
    I sat with Jacob by a fountian and handed him a penny to throw. I told him to first make a wish. After he threw it I asked him what he had just wished for. He replied he had wished he was throwing the penny in the fountian. How profoundly zen is that? Could I ever be so in the moment? I have so much to learn.

    Can’t wait to see ya again Pat, I owe you a bbq’d brisket

  14. A great post! Dealing with Alzheimer’s this has an extra special meaning to me Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story!

  15. Mary Buchan says:

    When I was a pediatric nurse I took care of many of these special children. They enriched my life. Thank you for this beautiful post. This would also be a wonderful Father’s Day piece.

  16. Kathy says:

    A great post and the best explanation of Autism I have read. Your son is fortunate to have such a wonderful father and you are fortunate to have an amazing son. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  17. Beautiful. And so so true. Our children are not giving us a hard time, they’re having a hard time. I love that line. I’m still learning. And will promise to do so forever.

  18. What a lovely post. I really appreciate you taking the time to help the rest of us comprehend what your son is experiencing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard autism explained quite this way. I am deeply touched by how much you obviously love your son. It is good to remember that we all have challenges.

  19. Kathleen says:

    A beautiful post. A great Dad. Our granddaughter has Cerebral Palsy. She too has her own world, similar to autism. We feel lucky to be in it.

  20. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your experience in such a powerful way. That you are both able and willing to “adapt and keep up” is a testimony of your love. May you continue to uncover even more amazing and wonderful things as your lives unfold.

  21. Lisa Flowers says:

    A lovely, lovely post with some tremendous insight.

  22. Sarah Fitzpatrick says:

    I have a friend with an autistic child and they got concerned when he lost his vocabulary.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "A father’s journey through autism"
  1. Sedona red rocks vacation says:

    […] Also, if you didn’t get a chance to see yesterday’s post by my friend Patrick Schoch, I highly recommend it. His moving and inspirational story of his journey through autism with his young son will be the best thing you’ve read this month for sure. Find it HERE. […]

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