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
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.
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