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.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Finding A Babysitter — The Search Continues

The past three years of parenthood has brought its share of challenges.  One of our bigger challenges is finding a reliable babysitter.

As first-time parents, we were involved in every little thing. I remember both of us watching him nap and changing those first diapers together.  Like most newbies, we wanted to be the perfect parents, forgetting you don’t achieve perfection, you strive for it.  Little things like that kept us from going out much those first months.

Esther’s aunt Titi Luisa, the original baby whisperer, instinctively called and offered to watch the baby.  The calls always came at the right time, giving us a chance to run a few errands or maybe go to Starbucks for a blissful hour in a baby-free environment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the perception of perfection — especially when you grew up watching Brady Bunch reruns.  I watch the Brady Bunch now and see Mike and Carol Brady knocking back a few cocktails and leaving the stressful stuff to Alice, the maid.

Looks like the babysitter loaded him up on Benadryl.

Titi Luisa wasn’t the only person who offered to watch Cristian during early days but as new parents we were a bit overprotective.  Maybe our expectations are a bit unrealistic.  Our ideal babysitter had the compassion of Mother Theresa and the strength and the resiliency of a Navy Seal.  We had a vetting process more stringent than the White House.  Of course, their vetting process has slipped a bit over the past year.

Watching a three-month old baby is easy, just give him a bottle and wait for him to take a nap.  It’s amazing how fast those initial babysitting offers dried up once Cristian started walking.  Of course posts like this don’t help.

Babysitting a hyperactive three-year old without using Benadryl isn’t for the faint of heart.  Your neighbor’s 13-year old daughter checking her Instagram page on her iPhone isn’t getting it done.  Try that with Cristian and the house will look like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria within 15 minutes.

We found an excellent babysitter who flew through our vetting process easily, a pleasant 30-something Central American woman.  She came highly recommended by family members, and was bilingual. She was incredibly energetic, taking Cristian to the park, playing with him at home, and bringing an iPad to keep him entertained.

Esther with the boys

Our Latina Mary Poppins was very pricey — the GDP of a third-world country pricey.  She was building her dream home in her country, babysitting Cristian allowed her to send home money to finance the construction.  She stepped up when my dad was sick, babysitting Cristian at a moment’s notice, sometimes staying with him until late into the night.  Rumor has it her waterfront villa has a wing in it named after him, paid for from with babysitting earnings.

We’re currently vetting her replacement, because we didn’t want to put up a kidney as collateral as she priced tennis courts and an Olympic-sized pool.  Over the past months we’ve swapped babysitting chores with my in-laws — giving each other a breather by watching each other’s kids.  The results have been great.   The boys play together, the adults get a night out, and I keep my vital organs.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

For Dad

Preface – This is one of my favorite posts.  I wrote this as a new father reflecting on childhood memories of my Dad.  I’m reposting it on what would have been his 90th birthday.

My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.
My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.

Becoming a father has made me a think a lot about my Dad. In my mind’s eye I relived memories of him seen through the eyes of a small child, teenager, and newly-minted Dad. He turns 89 tomorrow so I decided to write this post about him.

In his prime Dad was a small energetic man whose childhood was so much different than mine.  Born in 1926 the youngest of five children in El Freijo, a small town in rural Spain.  Since they were able to grow what they ate the family survived.

Dad and his older brothers Manuel and Francisco became carpenters out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats enabled the family to buy food and other necessities to survive. Through this difficult time my grandmother Mama Maria fed as many hungry children from other families as she could.

In 1936 a Civil War broke out in Spain taking an estimated 500.000 lives, including both brothers, I was named after Francisco.  His father died a few years later, apparently of a broken heart.

Twenty years old with little opportunity or future in post-World War II Europe Dad joined the Merchant Marine. When he left my grandmother told him, go and try find a better life for yourself but remember if things don’t work out you always have a home to come back to.

My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I'm the little guy on the right.
My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I’m the little guy on the right.

In 1956, after ten years of travelling the world on merchant ships Dad settled in Camden New Jersey.  I remember the colorful stories of his experiences shared with family sitting around a table usually with a glass of wine or cognac after holiday dinners. It took a few years and some of our own life experiences until my brother Bob and I truly appreciated Dad’s stories of Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina the day after Juan Peron was overthrown.

Dad moved from Camden to Spanish Harlem, and then to Brooklyn where he married.  After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house I grew up in and where he still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations.

Working hard to provide for his family, he rarely took a vacation, but when he did he made them count.   We took us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

I was six-years old so most of my memories consist of my brother and I running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.
Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing—a grandson.

Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.
Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.

Collecting thoughts for this post I realized we have more in common than I originally thought.  Besides being engaging storytellers, we are both the youngest child, share a sarcastic sense of humor and posses a stubborn streak.  Don’t believe me ask my Mom or Esther.  We also are the child who moved the family name forward another generation.

Dad doesn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day—his response is always the same.  Why did you have to get me that?  So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate, I told him, the grandchild we were expecting was a boy.  Words weren’t necessary, the Kool-Aid grin on his face spoke volumes.

That memory is special but it’s no longer my most precious, it was replaced when I placed Cristian in his arms the first time.  Seeing his smiling face I truly understood how special a gift it was.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

The Social Media Baby

Social Media Baby

Another time-honored part of parenting is showing the latest pictures of their son or daughter to friends, family and anyone else who look at them.  Bringing stacks of pictures to summer cookouts, Thanksgiving dinner and cornering coworkers in the company break room is part of the tradition.

It’s been this way throughout history—you can trace it back to the caveman.  The paintings on the Lascaux Cave walls were primitive baby pictures.  Visiting guests endured an hour or so of the latest images of Junior before settling down to a meal of sautéed wolf paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.  White wine served with red meat—now that was primitive.

My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I'm the little guy on the right.
My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I’m the little guy on the right.

Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, brandished selfies and baby pictures taken aboard the Mayflower.  They shared them with members of the local tribes during the first Thanksgiving Dinner and a tradition was started.

Technology improved over the years, film was replaced by digital cameras and Al Gore invented the internet.  Then came the iPhone, turning everyone a photographer.  Before you can say selfie stick a new phenomenon was born—social media.

It started with MySpace, the social media equivalent of the cave painting.   Before long it was replaced by Facebook and Twitter.  Soon distant relatives and complete strangers were posting, tweeting and pinning the most intimate details of their lives with reckless abandon for all to see.

Talk about building a better mousetrap.  Facebook and Instagram gives users a virtual means of cornering family, friends and virtual friends, with the latest family pictures that are draining the storage from their iPhones.  It’s found a home for all those blurry, underexposed iPhone images of today’s lunch, the latest pictures of their dogs or cats, and their children’s everything.

I always said I’d never be one of those parents whipping out and showing off baby pictures to anyone within site, whether they wanted to see them or not, before I became a parent.  According to (multiple) family members that ship sailed long ago.  So far there’s been no intervention, yet    

Cristian is a Social Media Baby—he was born in the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/You Tube era.  His birth announcement was posted on Facebook and Twitter.  Since we have family and friends (real and virtual) all across the Americas and Europe, it was the best way to get the word out.  He’s had iPhones or digital cameras in his face literally since birth.   

Used for Cristian's Baby Announcement
The Image used for Cristian’s Baby Announcement

I’m a Stay at Home Dad who blogs—sites like Facebook and Twitter is essential for promoting I’m Not Grandpa.  Blog posts and social media posts are made with an eye towards not embarrassing the baby.  Cheesy pictures of him could have repercussions.  He’ll probably be taking care of me in my golden years and payback is a bitch.

Many fellow bloggers are careful regarding their children.   Pseudonyms replace their children’s names and some are careful regarding how much they share because you never know.

The flip side of the argument is this. Facebook has allowed me to keep distant relatives in Spain and not so distant ones on Long Island posted on all things Cristian.  Esther and I are amazed at how many follow our posts.  In November she took the baby to Puerto Rico, giving family members a chance to meet our newest addition.  She was surprised how many told her they checked their feeds daily looking for new pictures and updates.          

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

For Dad

My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.
My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.

Becoming a father has made me a think a lot about my Dad. In my mind’s eye I relived memories of him seen through the eyes of a small child, teenager and newly-minted Dad. He turns 89 tomorrow so I decided to write this post about him.

In his prime Dad was a small energetic man whose childhood was so much different than mine.  Born in 1926 the youngest of five children in El Freijo, a small town in rural Spain.  Since they were able to grow what they ate the family survived.

Dad and his older brothers Manuel and Francisco became carpenters out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats enabled the family to buy food and other necessities to survive. Through this difficult time my grandmother Mama Maria fed as many hungry children from other families as she could.

In 1936 a Civil War broke out in Spain taking an estimated 500.000 lives, including both brothers, I was named after Francisco.  His father died a few years later, apparently of a broken heart.

Twenty years old with little opportunity or future in post-World War II Europe Dad joined the Merchant Marine. When he left my grandmother told him, go and try find a better life for yourself but remember if things don’t work out you always have a home to come back to.

My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I'm the little guy on the right.
My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I’m the little guy on the right.

In 1956, after ten years of travelling the world on merchant ships Dad settled in Camden New Jersey.  I remember the colorful stories of his experiences shared with family sitting around a table usually with a glass of wine or cognac after holiday dinners. It took a few years and some of our own life experiences until my brother Bob and I truly appreciated Dad’s stories of Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina the day after Juan Peron was overthrown.

Dad moved from Camden to Spanish Harlem, and then to Brooklyn where he married.  After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house I grew up in and where he still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations.

Working hard to provide for his family, he rarely took a vacation, but when he did he made them count.   We took us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

I was six-years old so most of my memories consist of my brother and I running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.
Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing—a grandson.

Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.
Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.

Collecting thoughts for this post I realized we have more in common than I originally thought.  Besides being engaging storytellers, we are both the youngest child, share a sarcastic sense of humor and posses a stubborn streak.  Don’t believe me ask my Mom or Esther.  We also are the child who moved the family name forward another generation.

Dad doesn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day—his response is always the same.  Why did you have to get me that?  So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate, I told him, the grandchild we were expecting was a boy.  Words weren’t necessary, the Kool-Aid grin on his face spoke volumes.

That memory is special but it’s no longer my most precious, it was replaced when I placed Cristian in his arms the first time.  Seeing his smiling face I truly understood how special a gift it was.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin