All three of my children had become adults before we knew that I was on the autism spectrum. All I wanted when they were born – even before they were born – was to be a good dad. I wanted to spend time with my children, teach them the ways of faith and life, see them grow, and be encouraging. I also wanted to provide for them. Now that I know I am on the spectrum, I sometimes think back and wonder if I missed anything in parenting. Not as a guilt trip, but simply a curious question.
One time looms large in my memory – I missed something big. I’ve been pretty good at checking my pockets to make sure I have everything before I leave. That did me no good that one Sunday afternoon.
A church we were a part of for several years had this great practice of staying behind and eating lunch together. People hung out with each other for an hour, sometimes two, after worship. The kids often ate together, and it was rare that we would see them until we were ready to head home.
One Sunday afternoon, my wife and middle child were out of town. I had enjoyed the meal and the fellowship, but my eldest child – my only daughter – began pestering me to leave. She had a friend that was coming home with us to spend the day, and maybe the night, if I remember correctly. I was a little frustrated, but I relented and started home with those two girls. About 9/10ths of the way home, I heard a phone ring in the car. It was mine! I had only had a cell phone for about a week, so it was still new to me, and strange to hear it ring in the car on a Sunday afternoon.
A mom at the church called to see if I was coming back for my youngest child! I had left without him! He was always the hardest one to corral after the Sunday meals. I hadn’t seen him, my wife and other son were not there (maybe they would have served as a reminder?), and my daughter had been pushing my buttons with her insistence that we get home with her friend. My heart sank. I had gotten so worked up about getting home, it distracted me from my fuller responsibility. He was about 11 or 12, and he was silent when I picked him up. He couldn’t believe it, and frankly neither could I. I did explain about the distraction, but that seemed like a sorry excuse.
It wasn’t a “Home Alone” situation, but the thought that it could have been – was terrifying. We are amazed to this day that he had already memorized my phone number for a very new cellphone and was able to give it to the mother who was still at church. He was not alone, but he had felt abandoned. That is a feeling that I never wanted my children to have: “My father forgot about me and drove away.”
Do I now blame that on my autism? No, I think it was a mistake that any parent could make, neurotypical or not. But my unique neurology could have been a factor, especially in how I respond in pressured situations. With my wife away, and the sleepover on the agenda, my routine was off.
Neither I nor my son was left scarred for life that I am aware of. Today, I might obsess about checking to see if I have everything, including every person, before leaving a place. Occasionally, I will leave a water bottle or my sunglasses; I’ve gotten better about not leaving people behind. Fortunately, the Mini turns on a dime if I need to make a U-turn and go back for something. Keep shiftin’.
#ASD #checkyourpockets #autism #countyourkids