One Thing I Hear Constantly

CookingOne thing I hear constantly as a single parent of an autistic child: Wow, I don’t know how you manage. I don’t think I could do it.

I suspect these people mean well, that they are trying to give me a compliment. But mostly this kind of statement just annoys me. I mean, really, what exactly are you saying? That you are tired of hearing about autism? That you are grateful you aren’t stuck with my screwed up kid? That if you could figure out a way to get away with it, you’d ditch said child at the mall? Or worse, that you’d walk away and start a new family, let someone else (i.e., your spouse) deal with the problem as many fathers (and a few mothers) have done?

Unless you are the kind of parent that could truly abandon his or her child, you’d manage the same way I do: as best you can, one day at a time. You’d suck it up and figure it out. You might not have a social life or a career-worthy job. Your legs might never be shaved. Your house might look like it was just hit with a hurricane and your yard might look like an untamed jungle, complete with a swamp pool, but you would manage. I’m fairly certain of that. I know this because you wouldn’t have a choice. The same way I don’t have a choice. My daughter has autism and I need to help her. End of story.  

It’s amazing what one will tolerate on behalf of a child.

My mother once said that I would feel differently about Katie’s autism is I’d given birth to her. Aside from what this says about Mom’s views on guilt and disabilities, I totally disagree. I don’t waste time debating the “what ifs” of autism. Not only is that a highly unproductive pursuit, but what difference would it make? If I had someone or something to blame, would I feel better? I doubt it. What’s done is done. My child has autism and nothing is ever going to change that. I can be her advocate and help her progress to the best of her ability. She may one day live independently, but she will always have autism. Her brain is wired differently and there is nothing I, nor anyone else, can do about that. Even if she appears “recovered” to an unsuspecting stranger, she will still have autism. It’s a simple fact—as basic as the fact that I love her, regardless.

I’m committed to this child—just as committed as if I’d given birth. Some people find this surprising, but I don’t. Ask any adoptive parent and they’ll tell you the same thing, If I find anything surprising, it’s that there are single men who seem willing to take this on voluntarily, which is something even I did not do.

For the past year or so I’ve been easing back into the dating scene. A lot of things have changed since 1992—the year I met my now ex-husband. As one of my potential suitors said (right before he politely dumped me), there’s a world of difference between dating in your 20s without kids and dating in your 40s while juggling parenting duties. Here’s my biggest revelation: Back in the 90s, I thought the sexiest thing was a man who cooked. Now I think the sexiest thing is a man who sticks around in good times and in bad, a man who truly parents a child.

But I wouldn’t turn down a meal.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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7 Responses to One Thing I Hear Constantly

  1. I have yet to meet or find a man like me, a lone widower, that cares for a child with Autism totally alone. I have no one to leave him with, I get no help from friends or family. I have not ever met a woman that wants to date me (besides a FWB thing) or have a relationship with me. I HEAR YOU! Everything you say is true, and when you are a man like me, it’s more worse than you could EVER imagine because a women can get a man by offering sex, but a man in my situation does not have that option. There are just way too many available men that don’t have kids with Autism. Women say they want a man like me that is a committed parent, a true father who would not abandon his child, but sorry to say, that is a lie! When I go to single parent functions women avoid me once they know I have a child with autism. I have never been set up on a blind date or introduced to anyone from friends or family. I am never invited to social parties from friends I know anymore, and I have spent every single one of my birthdays alone since my wife died in 2005. I have not one male person in my life that I could call my friend. At least women stick together, men bail on you and completely ignore your situation’s special needs, especially if you are a male. Men don’t support men, unless maybe they are homesexual!

    • cjpatton says:

      I know a guy who is a single parent to an autistic child. His son’s mother took off much as my husband did. He gets some help from his extended family, but not much. I don’t get much help from my family either. And I have heard this again and again from other parents of autistic children. So you are not alone.

      I suspect women are simply more realistic about what it would take to parent an autistic child. The men I have met, not so much. And yeah, I’ve spent a lot of holidays alone since my daughter was diagnosed. I know exactly how that feels. Hang in there!

  2. I do want to add, that my mother has helped me recently the last few years, she is the only one. My father has only invited me to his home once, and my brother wants nothing to do with me. I have repeatedly heard from uncles, aunts, cousins, friends (especially women!) we want to come by and see your son. What do they do? Drop off a gift, take a picture and head out the door usually within 2 hours. Let me tell you, women have completely abandoned my son, a motherless son, so if you think it’s tough having a man in your life, go ask your “sisters” how many of THEM would date a guy who has a kid with Autism? The answer is ZERO! Women talk a big game, but they don’t do anything with a man in need. At least men are up front about it, AND the couple times I had a FWB situation, I was providing for those women, and I have the kid with Autism! And, good luck with getting help from the Catholic Church, Republicans, or any one else that touts the bible. The Bible thumpers are the last people to count on when you have a child with Autism.

    • cjpatton says:

      I’m glad that your mother has been able to help out. I think it is difficult for family members of either gender (male or female) to know what to do to help someone grappling with autism. Even doctors don’t know! So why does it surprise us that our family members seem at a loss? It’s a sad situation for all of us.

  3. You know who helped me the most? Easter Seals! And yes, it was all women helping me, but they WORKED there. The staff at Easter Seals saved me and went out of their way to help me. Only public service people have helped me and my son, and the government, ESPECIALLY REPUBLICANS want to cut the funding to these organizations and disability programs.

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