Autism and Fatherhood

I have said it many times and I will say it many more times because it is the truth and that is the joy of becoming a father is the most incredible thing you will ever experience in your lifetime. When Matthew was born I was so delighted and felt an incredible bond with my wife and newborn son in that moment in time. I have lived many seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades to realize that this is the most special thing you could ever experience in your life. The day we brought our son home from the hospital was a day of uncertainty and great joy and realizing that I was Matthew’s dad was truly gratifying and heart warming. I will always remember the day Maria gave birth to our son as that is forever frozen in time in my mind and is my most incredible experience that will live with me through eternity.

I have learned that becoming a father is not something you can study for or take a test to see how good you will be at it. It is a constant learning process and every day poses a new challenge. As a father you wish to provide your child with love, support, guidance, wisdom and encouragement and so much more. In the early days of fatherhood the most important thing to do is to be very supportive of your wife as she is constantly with the newborn baby nursing the baby and bonding with the baby. As the father I realize the bond between the mother and the baby is the most important bond of all and I truly realize the special gift and joy a woman feels when she gives birth for the first time. It must be the most amazing and most incredible experience she can feel once she gets past the physical pain. I have always had tremendous respect for my wife and for all women who give birth as that is something truly special and we as new fathers are so very appreciative for their tremendous sacrifice and their courage all throughout their pregnancy as that is 9 months of preparation and as special as it is, it is so physically and emotionally draining for a woman and she needs to always be supported throughout her pregnancy and always be conscious that she is doing all the right things for her body and for the baby growing inside her womb.

As the days becomes weeks and months and the baby is starting to grow and develop it is very important to have the baby be seen by the pediatrician for regularly scheduled visits and vaccinations. This is a time when you are very much in tune with your child and for the next 2 years the mother will be with the baby morning, noon and night. As the father it is important to give your wife a break and volunteer to change diapers and do feedings when you are available as it is stressful raising a baby and since the mother is constantly with the baby she most certainly needs a break every now and then. It is also important that the father establish a bond with the baby also and help in the early years as they go by so quickly and you can never get them back and before you know it, it becomes a distant memory.

As your child approaches the 2 year mark that is a very special time because the child is really starting to develop a personality and starting to talk and walk and becoming somewhat independent in some ways. I still remember discussions with my wife when Matthew was 2 years old because she was very concerned for him. As she was with him so much more and could see how he responded to her she started to realize that there was something not right with our precious son. Her first clue was when she would talk to him calmly and engage him as she was feeding him and realizing he was never able to make eye contact with her. Usually babies are very good at responding to cues and making eye contact. At that time she knew something was wrong but was not sure what was wrong.

We decided that it would be wise to inform his pediatrician but for some reason we did not really discuss it with her until he was near 3 years old and it was clearly evident that something was not right. The pediatrician immediately suggested the early intervention program which we did inquire about and it was determined that Matthew would most definitely benefit from it. He was diagnosed with autism and was further diagnosed with asperger’s which when we found out were not sure what it all meant. The teachers and therapists that came to the house would help Matthew with speech, motor coordination, eye contact, auditory and sensory skill development. It was a long process and we were fortunate to have these resources available.

As Matthew grew and received the therapies from the early intervention program we started to see progress being made and were encouraged and excited and thankful to all the wonderful people who were helping our son. It was wonderful to see Matthew starting to talk and verbalize his feelings and making eye contact. It was a tremendous relief for us and we knew he was going to need special schooling but we were happy that he was coming along and making the progress we were so hoping to see. When you have a child you want them to be perfect in every way but realize you will accept your child no matter what as unconditional love is such a powerful love that bonds the child and the parents forever.

As a father of an autistic child I realize there are many challenges and many frustrations but when you know your child is special and you learn that there are professionals to turn to and schools that are there to provide tailored programs for your child then you start to develop hope and are encouraged and start to see the good things and the progress and you then realize that your child can make strides and do the things you hoped they could. It will take them more time maybe but they too can do the things that other kids do and our son is very bright and has such a great disposition. I am constantly learning from him as he is exceptionally bright and is a joy as well. I know he will have his struggles but I am confident that he will grow and mature and make wonderful progress and we are so proud of him and love him so much. Matthew is my son, Maria is my wife and I am so lucky to have them both in my life and am so proud to be Matthew’s dad.

Edward D. Iannielli III

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