Thankful for Autism?

When the pediatrician, at the boy’s two-year check-up, said to us, you’ll probably need to have him checked for autism, I wasn’t thankful.

Since this is a family blog, I’ll refrain from being frank with my language. Suffice it to say there was a rageful fear that stole over me in those moments. Followed rapidly by a little over two-million, one-hundred and two-thousand, four hundred other moments that were, to a varying degree, just like those first.

Fear of the future.

Rage for the disconnected now.

Fear of the hobbled hopes.

Rage at the ceaseless struggle to understand.

Fear at the thought that I never would.

rageful fear

There was little time for other as we rushed to find a way to help him. Knowing that every day he waits for a breakthrough is like three for another kid, we were rushing, raging against the fog of autism.

But there are clearings and breakthroughs. There is connection. There are times when the boy looks me in the eye and says, “I love you.” And the rageful fear fades.

For that and for so much else, I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that I’m learning to listen, really truly listen. My ears seek out the smallest syllable, the quietest question whispered in the middle of the night. And when it comes, I’m screaming for joy in my heart waiting for the next.

I’m thankful that I’m learning to live in the moment. To play when we’re playing. To climb when we’re climbing. To laugh when we’re laughing, and we laugh–he and I–often and loudly. To cry when we’re crying because we can’t connect. To lock eyes before we lock hands as we run to play.

I’m thankful for the community we’ve found and the friends, old and new, who just get it. There was a time when my off the scale introversion didn’t worry about losing a friend; I was foolish in my youth. As the boy’s friends have taught me, true friendship opens whole new worlds to explore and to love.

But mostly I’m thankful for this beautiful boy who bounces without reservation, who shouts with joy without concern, and who loves without shame. Despite the fog and the rage and the fear, I’m thankful for who my boy is.

I’m a blessed dad.


"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. And I’m glad that your son has you as a father and that you are such a good dad to him. My oldest three children are adopted and I thank God every day that they came into my life.

    Thank you for these powerful and beautiful words on a day dedicated to family.

  2. I’m thankful for you Russell, and for the increasing number of concerned people who are reading, contributing to, ande becoming daily more aware of the needs of all students, with and without autism, and the plight of caring school personnel this year at HCS. I’m thankful I don’t exactly walk in your shoes, but proud there are people who are willing to bounce along beside you. Thankful that beginning with you, the new year that is coming will bring new hope, and some answers, for the HCS system and children that we all care so much about.

  3. Russell, your post was amazing. Jason O’Brien invited me to read this. My son Issac is autistic. He is nine years old and we have actually come as far as to having him integrated into a regular class at school. We held him back a year and have had every extra service possible involved in his development since he was three. Issac actually was not truly diagnosed till he was five after entering kindergarten. That was probably one of the worst, most difficult years of our life. When I think back it is unbelievable to think of how far our family has come. Is everyday at school still a struggle? Yes:) pretty much, and I think it probably will always be this way. I acknowledge that each year there are different battles and struggles. I can say though that without the support and care of all the people who have invested their time in Issac’s life we would be lost. I am so thankful that they see the beautiful intelligent and loving boy that his father and I see every day. Issac may have autism but it does not have him. Truly in the end I feel it is a gift. He has the ability to tap into a whole other amazing way of living life. Thanks for sharing. It is nice to hear other people’s stories knowing those emotions and feelings we have felt. I wish your family the best! I am glad Jason had me read your post.

  4. I live this Russell. I meant to type, I love this, Russell, but you know what? I do live this! I can identify with every word you wrote and wholeheartedly agree with your feelings.
    Thanks so much for everything you write. I’ve enjoyed reading all of it and I’ve enjoyed seeing your son’s milestones and victories!
    Christina South

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