The Confessions of a Father of An Autistic Child
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, #autismawareness, and #autismdads to my posts for well over a year. I’ve allluded 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 might 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. My wife Esther and I are first-time parents of a delightful little boy. He loves attention and admiration, rewarding those who play 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 he was a year old, 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 while I reviewed spreadsheets. I kept convincing myself he wasn’t receiving enough stimuli.
Cristian played by himself during storytime at the local library and didn’t interact with the other kids during his My Gym class. I thought it was odd when he didn’t play with children he’s known for several months. The group leaders 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…