I wonder how my younger son’s autism has affected the kind of dad I am. Playing with any young child can sometimes be taxing work, but one with autism presents unique challenges. He or she might pay little, if any attention to your efforts to engage, leaving you feeling like you’re giving and receiving nothing in return. Trying to speak to the child can seem like just talking to yourself—akin to what some people experience when they pray. After a demanding day at work, trying to connect with him and enter his world can feel more like a chore than a privilege. But lately something has changed. My time at night with him is now often the most precious part of my day.
We have a trampoline in our back yard. In the past, when we jumped together I focused on furthering his development, coaxing him to repeat words I said or make eye contact. But one day I decided to let my teaching goals go and just be fully present with him. After a little while I noticed him glance up at me with a bright smile. He could sense I was having fun instead of straining to make him better. When he fell down, I would too, tickling him and rubbing his back. I could feel a loving bond develop. On and on we jumped. The back of his hair wet with sweat, my mind free from the stresses of the day. Now when we arrive home, he grabs my hand and walks me to the back door and to the trampoline for our nightly jumping ritual.
I hope and pray that my son will talk someday. I will do everything I can to enable him to have that crucial capacity. But I cannot imagine that words could make us any more close and connected than we are jumping together on the trampoline.