Yesterday, I mentioned that I would share a bit more about the genetics behind Liam’s diagnosis.
We did not realize that my husband may have autistic characteristic until after our son was born. Prior to that, we just saw him as a quiet, hard working man. (We still see him that way, but now realize that he’s not shy, which many people labeled him). My husband became more “stressed” or “anxious” when our lives changed with the entry of a baby. Liam’s cry would unnerve my husband. The sound just cut right through him. When our second child arrive, the “chaos” that ensued would cause him to become visibly overwhelmed. Three kids… well, you get the picture. There’s also a dog now, by the way.
The characteristics were there from the start. However just like ADHD, back in the day, if kids were outside playing and schools were built upon purposeful play, there was not as much to notice. My husband has always been quiet. But growing up where his family was always outside, raising animals, and getting to work on his own, he thrives. It’s only when he’s forced into a “social” situation, such as school or our family, where he gets out of his comfort zone.
Communication: His Kindergarten teacher once shared that he hardly spoke in class, and only showed some “real” emotion that year on his birthday in early November, when his mom brought in cupcakes for the class. He’s always the kind to respond to my five questions in one text with “K.” He interacts really well with much younger or much older individuals. He volunteered in our daughter’s Kindergarten class and has been asked back twice when our daughter was older, to do crafts and numbers with the students. He was such a huge help when my Dad’s health was declining. Things that made me feel uncomfortable with my own father, he took in stride.
Attention to Detail: The word “artisan” is defined as: “a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.” This is my husband! One thing that can be a strong indicator of autism is weak central coherence – which is acute attention to details and seeing the trees for the forest, but not the gestalt or big picture of life. Uta Frith, a renowned autism researcher shared art work of individuals on the autism spectrum and it is truly astounding. Take for instance this map created by an 11-year-old who has an autism spectrum diagnosis:
My husband is gifted like this, in trades such as woodworking, welding, kitchen and bath remodeling, electrical work, etc.:
He is an artisan with a pristine attention to detail. He was also the vo-tech student who took Calculus.
Sensory: We don’t go to many places that are loud or contain large crowds. If we do, we usually are the first to leave. My husband hates the feel of popsicle sticks and won’t eat anything too mushy or slimy. (He at Chinese food first when he was 32 and met me – he will only do General Tso’s, but it’s Chinese!) When I talk loudly, he can sometimes think I am yelling at him.
Social Skills: My husband takes things literally. When I am sharing a problem, he can often feel that I’ve asked him to “solve it” instead of just listening to me. He doesn’t like to make eye contact – it feels uncomfortable to him. Talking on the phone, even to order a pizza, is something he avoids doing. He does not often smile, which has nothing to do with his mood.
Individually, any of these characteristics would mean nothing. Together, they can paint a picture of what we have talked about and worked on with my son throughout early intervention and his school age social skills lessons.
When we started to learn about Liam, my husband had some “ah-ha’s.” Some of the strategies we have learned have helped; others don’t apply. My husband shared once that he finally understood himself a little better by being Liam’s Dad. For example, one of my husband’s middle school teachers called him “Howie.” At the time, my husband felt that he was being made fun of. I was actually called “Howie” by a senior I taught, with whom I had a great relationship. My husband has thought more on whether the name given by the teacher was actually “bullying” or something that was done as a way of “connecting” with him.
We have not sought a formal diagnosis for my husband because it’s not necessary (and also expensive). If I could go back and support him like we have Liam, in the past, when he was struggling to get through school, choose a career, and maintain friendships, I would love to – but even then, autism was not really “a thing.” He is a successful, beloved dad, who is not in need of a label to define him.
Yet, it has been helpful to know that his depressed feelings could be a part of ASD, and not something else. It has guided the way that I avoid bombarding him with too much information or try to “have the discussion” without giving him time to process. Most of all, it has helped him to “see” his son for his similar strengths, and to not be so worried about his less adept skills, such as saying goodnight or showing affection the way our other children do.