The Confessions of a Father of An Autistic Child

This is the face of an autism.

Hi, my name is Frank Priegue, I’m the father of an autistic child.  It felt good to write that.  This isn’t a deeply held secret, our family and friends are aware.  If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve included hashtags like #autism, #autismawareness, and #autismdads to my posts for over a year.  I’ve alluded to Cristian’s autism but never dedicated a post to this topic—until now.  This is Cristian’s official coming out as an autistic child.

Although greater awareness exists these days, few individuals without a relationship to someone on the spectrum know much about Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Before I became a parent, my only exposure came from the film Rainman.  I knew nothing of IEPs, Developmental Pediatricians, or District 75 schools.

Like many parents, I went through a stage of denial when Cristian was diagnosed.  My wife and I sat quietly with our mouths hanging open as we read the diagnosis.  How could our child be autistic?  He had a few eccentricities, which a specialist diagnose as sensory issues or developmental delays, but that doesn’t mean he’s autistic.  I convinced myself that autism is the flavor of the month diagnosis doctors are handing out in large numbers until the next one comes along.

Denial can be a potent concept.  You can justify anything if you repeat it enough—I know this because I did this with Cristian.  Esther and I are first-time parents of a delightful little boy.  He loves attention and admiration, rewarding those who played with him with a 1000-watt smile.  So when we noticed oddities, I easily justified them.

Cristian didn’t say his first words until well after a year, but so did I.  I didn’t speak until just before my second birthday.  I was a Stay at Home Dad for two years, working as a medical biller.  Cristian played with his toys or watched Sesame Street for a while I reviewed spreadsheets.  I kept convincing myself—he wasn’t receiving enough stimuli.

How can our child be autistic?

Cristian played by himself during story time at the local library and didn’t interact with the other kids during his My Gym class.  I thought it was odd he didn’t play with children he’s seen for several months.  The teachers told me many children less than a year old engaged in parallel play, so I didn’t think very much about it.  Cristian is an only child of older parents, we tried scheduling playdates with his cousins to socialize him, but they were 3 and 4 years older than him.

I was aware there were a few peculiarities making him different from other kids his age, but he was a healthy baby, his pediatrician assured of us this.  He scored high on the growth charts and he liked adults.  How could there be something wrong with him?

It became increasingly difficult to keep ignoring the obvious.  On a trip to Puerto Rico to introduce Cristian to the family did the differences become more apparent.  Esther noticed that he wasn’t exhibiting appropriate behavior for a year-old baby, as he played with cousins who were his age.

Despite Esther’s background as an early-intervention coordinator, I wasn’t totally convinced.  She was also a first-time mom, who worried if it was too hot or cold.  First-time moms worry about everything. It wasn’t until Cristian started rocking back and forth in his car seat with greater frequency or ran back and forth down the hallway in our home like he was running wind sprints that we decided to get him evaluated.

Being the parents of a special-needs child is challenging, but raising any child, is about meeting challenges when they arise, and giving the illusion that you have everything under control.  Don’t feel sorry for Cristian, he’s not feeling sorry for himself.  He’s a happy four-year old, who loves to run, play, and read books.  As his parents, all we ask for is patience, understanding and awareness.  Take the time to get to know him and be part of his world on his terms.  You might be surprised at what you see.

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4 thoughts on “The Confessions of a Father of An Autistic Child

  • April 29, 2019 at 11:51 am
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    As the mom of three kiddos with Autism, I know exactly how you feel. Honestly, I went through the same process of denial with each one of them. But now I celebrate who they are and what they have to offer the world. I’m so thankful for kiddos like Cristian and parents like you!

    Reply
    • April 29, 2019 at 11:57 am
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      Hi Kelly. It takes the parent of a special-needs child to understand the challenges on raising their child or in your case children. Thanks for reading and your kind words.

      Reply
  • April 29, 2019 at 6:10 pm
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    Mr little brother is autistic so I understand a lot of the struggle. Over the years, I have learned to accept it and do my best to understand the way his mind works. He is a nonverbal and very sensitive. Unfortunately, when he was diagnosed, there was next to nothing available to him. The school he went to was horrible and he was beaten by the other students. I am glad though that people like you are opening up and talking about this because the only way anything will be done for these kids is with awareness and people standing up. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your story. I am so glad to hear your son is doing well and I wish him and you guys the absolute best. <3

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    • April 29, 2019 at 10:33 pm
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      Wow! Hearing about your brother pissed me off when I read it. As a parent of a special needs child I worry about this kind of horrible thing happening to him or any other child, because he or she is different. So I’m trying to do what I can the best way I know how, with my words on a page and on a computer screen raising awareness for them. Thank you for reading.

      Reply

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