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I just love Walter as he is.

RAISING CHILDREN IS a complicated and intense experience under normal circumstances. But that experience is relatively simple compared to that of having a child with a disability such as autism, which involves a love relationship of the most intense nature.

The love parents feel for their child is there before they ever get to

know" the child as a person. Unlike romantic love, it is not governed by the behavior of the child or how the child "treats" the parents. Generally, infants are the most demanding of people and do not "treat" their parents well in the sense that the word is often used. But they do have much to teach us as parents. Children, whether normal or with disabilities, teach their parents about love. New Dimensions of Love

Before I became a father I thought I understood the idea of love, but my son has brought new dimensions to my understanding of love. Before a person has a child, the experience of love is often affected by the behavior of the object of one's love. In romantic love, the object of the love can strain or even destroy the emotion by behaving badly. Having a child, particularly a child with a disability, redefines all your previous thinking and experience of love. My son Walter has done this for me. Walter is six years old and has autism. He also has developmental delays. With this combination, Walter has both the unusual behavior patterns of the child with autism and does not speak.

My discussion here will concern my feelings rather than the struggles Rosalynn, my wife, and I have had with the medical and educational systems in our attempts to obtain every possible opportunity and service for Walter. I will say, now, that it is almost overwhelming that, as soon as you learn that your child has a disability, you must immediately prepare to fight some of the most frustrating and important battles of your life with the system," in order to protect the few rights and obtain the few services available to children with special needs. Love and Pride

It was January 16, 1987, that we learned that Walter's lack of speech was attributable to autism and developmental delay As with many parents, a component of my love for Walter when he was born was my pride. He is so handsome and has few physical signs of his disability. I have hundreds of photos of him which I will show anyone who expresses the slightest interest. Now, two years after first learning what the problem is, the pride I feel is so much deeper. I am so proud of him when he makes another small step forward in his development. It is most moving and surprising when he develops a skill, ability or awareness which we have not been attempting to teach or develop. He is full of these surprises. For example, he now likes his privacy when he uses the bathroom and he will show this by closing the door. We had not been working on that how can you? Anyway, that was one of those moments when we can see him progress and the love and pride are felt strongly.

The deeper emotions, however, are not related to any particular behavior. Indeed, sometimes the love is felt despite many of his unusual behavior patterns. I do not love Walter because he can or cannot do any particular thing. I just love Walter. His condition deepens my feelings. It keeps the love closer to the surface and makes it palpable. In the novel The World According to Garp, the main character liked to spend entire evenings "watching the kids." I was not a parent when I read that book, so I thought that was merely a sweet plot device. I did not think parents actually did that. I now understand.

Love and joy

What could be more wonderful than watching your child sleep? Just standing in the door and watching him can bring a lump to my throat. I remember one night he had wet the bed, and I had to change the sheets and give him dry clothes. After tucking him in and giving him his pencil (at that time he was fixated on pencils), I just sat by the bed for about half an hour looking at his face. As I watched him fall asleep, he was smiling and making the funniest faces. It was a joy

When I put Walter to bed, I like to tell him I love him and that I am so proud of him. He knows the "I love you" part. I do not know if he understands, "I am so proud of you," but he will smile and touch my lips with the back of his hand when I am talking. He seems to be listening with his hand. continued on page 24

I have thought about how Walter's autism affects my love for him; I mean, would I feel differently if he were "normal"? I do not know a Walter who is "normal." That would be a different person. I know and love the Walter who has autism. Shortly after Walter's disability was diagnosed, I sometimes wondered why I did not feel a sense of regret at his condition. Of course, I wish he did not have disabilities, and I want him to develop to his maximum potential, but I do not wish he were different.

I Love Walter, As He Is

At first I thought I must just be in shock. The "normal" emotion, I thought, would be to wish Walter were normal. Well, intellectually I do, but emotionally I do not know a child named Walter who can talk and attends regular school. I know and love a Walter that is my son and exists as he is. I cannot imagine a child whose development I would take for granted. I know this child who finds ingenious ways to communicate even complex ideas and wishes without speech. I celebrate his abilities rather than regret his disabilities. I love this Walter.

I do not think this is just some sentimental rationalization. When I try to visualize Walter as a "normal" child, I do not see the child I know and love so deeply. His disabilities are part of the person I love. I do not love his autism, but I love him and he is autistic. If he were suddenly not autistic, I would be filled with joy, but I would have to get to know this new person.

My point is that being a parent involves loving your child as he or she is. The behavior or personality of the child does not control the love. Nor is it based on his ability to meet the expectations of friends, family or or if a child has a disability, I think the love is even less dependent on exterior factors. It is deep, personal and almost private. You know that society does not understand or experience its love for their children in the same way you do. Your love is both subtle and all-consuming. You watch for and rejoice in small accomplishments. You do not take the future for granted.

I do not mean to imply that parents of children with disabilities love their children more than other parents. I do not know. I have one child, Walter, and I love him - as he is.
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Title Annotation:father of autistic child
Author:Anderson, Richard C.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1237
Previous Article:Big boys don't cry.
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