In Praise of Fathers on the Autism Spectrum

Today I spoke to my Dad for three minutes on the telephone to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Dad is notoriously uncomfortable on the phone, so we keep conversations short. It does not matter. Dad knows I love him. We can cram a world full of emotion into the tiniest sentence.

This brief exchange compelled me to examine fatherhood on the autism spectrum.

My Dad worked incredibly hard to support our family. Daily, he coped with anxiety and insomnia. To fit in with his co-workers he memorized jokes, stories, and scripts.  He stuck to lists and written instructions for organization and daily living. Long before Asperger’s syndrome diagnoses reached our family, he handled life with aplomb.

fathers day 2
Dad, singing at a campfire.

I am deeply proud of my father.  Please permit me to generalize wonderful things about my dad to all fathers on the autism spectrum:

  1. They share with you. I once asked my Dad how to tie a knot. Heh. For the next three weeks, we explored the history of knot making. Not only did dad personally show me how to tie dozens of fancy, complicated knots, but he gave their full background and a stack of illustrated books to study.
  2.  They will be honest with you. At six I asked my dad if Santa was real. A pained expression crossed his face. He said, “The spirit of Christmas is real.” I pressed, “So Santa’s not real?” He shook his head, “Santa is an idea. He represents the giving spirit of Christmas.”  Over thirty years have passed, but I remember the moment vividly. He respected me enough to tell the truth.
  3. Their enthusiasm is contagious. When my Dad talks about his favorite subjects, he glows. You not only see his incredible joy, but it washed over you. He loves spelunking and mineralogy. Ten minutes with him and you will dream about sparkling crystals and mysterious caves
  4. They are loyal.  Public school distressed me. Every four months or so, I crashed and missed three or four weeks straight. The school system so harassed my mother over absenteeism, that a school administration meeting was scheduled so my father could attend. Wild-eyed and fearsome, Dad defended me so staunchly that the issue was resolved for the remainder of my school days.
  5. They will understand you. My Dad always had great compassion for my war with anxiety. When I was 25, I dropped out of college for the fifth time. Heartbroken, I felt like an utter failure. He took my hand and told me it would be okay. He promised me that as a family we would find a way to finish school and select an agreeable career.  In the ten years it took me to get my degree, he never begrudged my tuition. He accepted my struggles long before my Asperger’s diagnosis gave a name to my difficulties.

40 thoughts on “In Praise of Fathers on the Autism Spectrum

  1. What a wonderful post! I loved reading about your father, there are similar attributes with my dad, however, he handled them differently. Although, because of my dad I learned geology, the entire history of the band Genesis while Peter Gabriel was the lead singer, and because of his enthusiasm it prompted an interest for me in Bible history. (However, the knowledge I gained did not mesh with his and caused me to challenge and question even more. Shh! We are at a silent impass. Hee hee) I learned many, many things sitting and listening to him for hours about his interests.

    Really love your image and eloquent way with words!

    1. Before my brain shuts down for the evening, I wanted to thank you for the lovely comments you always leave. I love to read your reflections and experiences; we share so much in life. I feel I do you a disservice when I can’t come up with a suitable response. Poor anxious me!

      So, I’ll ramble. Geology was actually my dad’s major before he switched to math! I could listen to an info dump on that for hours. Dad schooled me on mythology, which he had an encyclopedic knowledge of. I still love to learn about other people’s beliefs. There is definitely something magic about people who pour knowledge out of their mouths!

  2. I love this portrait of your dad, your photos and your words! He sounds a lot like mine (although mine doesn’t have any official diagnosis, he shares a LOT of these traits!) – hip hip hooray for quirky, loving fathers, who share their enthusiasm for life!

  3. You dad sounds very involved and empathetic. My dad has a similar enthusiasm for his interests, and the knot story sounds a bit like him:-) (and my grand dad) but generally, he doesn’t share his interests much, he is very solitaire. Also, while he is loyal and understanding on a deeper plan, he also insists on compliance with the demands of the outside world *whatever the cost* and side with its complainants. I’ve had many epic childhood wars with my dad over things like not wanting to eat things it was The Plan I should eat, not sitting properly at the table (big, everpresent one… I have table manner traumas even today), not wanting to tidy my room according to whatever standards, and not doing home work (although he gave up on that last one). He primarily imposes the rules that he thinks the world has, fair or not, and accepts whatever casualties there may be. Maybe a consequence of growing up in a somewhat cynical old style farm culture and having to survive the politics of a large family and life’s circumstances in general.

    1. “fair or not” doesn’t apply to household chores like homework and tidying room and such, it relates to things I haven’t specified so maybe that is confusing. (Hopefully, one day I’ll learn to notice the weaknesses and mistakes in what I’ve written before I click on “Post Comment”)

    2. People’s personalities can be so complex. I understand what you say about inflexibility and sharing. My Dad pretty much searched for familiar parameters in every situation and evaluated accordingly. while this made him wonderfully tolerant, it also made him unspeakably anxious. He was lucky to have mom as a helper. I suspect that had they not met, Dad would have spent the rest of his life catching rattlesnakes and exploring caves.

      In our house, I was not permitted at the dinner table except for special occasions. I was too hyper and ticcy, but so glad to eat in my room. I also rarely had friends over when Dad was home, which was no hardship. My mom was more of the rule maker in our home, but I never had to cope with awful authoritarianism. I do not know how I would have reacted, or coped, except to be even more anxious.

      As I think about it, we did have lots of rules, but they were of a different sort. I could understand the purpose of them. I didn’t eat with my family because I was so fidgety. Loud friends disturbed Dad, who worked for a living. I sensed a fairness in them. I sense that some of your father’s rules seemed less fair. Maybe it is because of the size of family you came from. It was just me, and who cared if I ate a cheese sandwich in my room, but in a larger family, maybe that was how it needed to work. If I had a large family, we would live like animals–the crazy family down the street. Actually we are sort of the crazy family, anyway. 🙂

      1. In our house, I was not permitted at the dinner table except for special occasions. I was too hyper and ticcy, but so glad to eat in my room.

        That sounds like the royal kids… 😉 It sounds like your parents provided a strong mix of authority and liberation. And also that you were accepting and understanding to their rules, which would probably have warded off potential conflicts.

        I was not so understanding and good at seeing the purpose of the adults’ rules, and was known to be strong willed (as in “not a good listener”), so that probably affected my dad’s approach to me. My mother would tell my dad when I had done something naughty or didn’t want to clean up my room, as pretty much the only tool she had to get me to do things, and it did not work when my dad was away for a while (actually it rarely worked at all). When my dad came home, he would then feel responsible for correcting me after listening to my mom’s complaints. The way he has described me as a kid is that I did not pick up hints and gentle corrections like my brother, was “thick skinned” / robust, and needed to be corrected “with big letters” in order to listen. Whereas he always had to be cautious when correcting my brother, or he would start crying (my brother;-)

        My close family is not big. My dad grew up in a large family – he had 10 siblings and grew up on a farm. I grew up with just one little brother and have since got 2 additional little half brothers as an adult, after my parents divorced, and my dad remarried. I lived at home again (in my dad’s + his new wife’s house) when my youngest brothers were small, so they have somewhat grown up with me, but I have not grown up with them.

    3. Excuse me, I replied in the wrong spot to your original comment. I wish I had time to figure out how to add an editing option for comments.

      So, I will respond to your comment below, up here. My Dad was bullied and harassed in school and it left him indelibly intolerant of injustice and society’s ideas. Even now, he seeks justice and intention means everything to him. We had a strong “us” versus “them.” line drawn in our home. This was awesome in many ways, but it distanced me from just about everyone until college rolled around.

      Strangely related, keeping my room clean was my own business–a liberty if you would. Mom stated that all I needed was a trail to the door if a fire erupted. I nevertheless evolved into a compulsive neat freak! Chores though, were serious stuff. I could pile my toys to the ceiling, but woe unto me if I did not empty the dishwasher or pick up after the dogs! To me, this seemed incredibly fair.

      1. My other reply is to this one too:-)

        Actually, my mom’s strategy to me keeping my room was like your mom’s strategy in my late childhood, but it had the opposite effect. I really just had a trail through the mess a lot of the time;-) Besides usual kids’ mess like toys and clothes, the floor was littered with hay and saw dust due to my hobby: guinea pigs. and my pets were often/in some periods always, loose in my room (guinea pigs, budgies and a dog. The dog didn’t make a mess though, she was well behaved). This was after my parents’ divorce, so my mom’s “I’ll tell dad when he comes home” long term strategy backfired severely when he was no longer around to be the authoritarian one.

  4. That’s a lovely post. I am also the Aspie daughter of a possibly Aspie father. His commitment to teaching me how to be in the world, the social rules, etiquette and good manners is one reason why I function so well now. Also, his love of colour and drawing and the way he shared his interests in art, design and architecture played a huge role in my choice of career. So nice to praise the Aspie good rather than focus on the percieved difficulties.
    I love your blog

    1. Thank you so much for the visit and please forgive my delay in responding. The end of the school year was more stressful than I intended!

      I am so glad to learn about your marvelous father. His commitment to teaching you and enriching your life sounds like a special interest to me! 🙂 You are quite correct, we need to share the positives of the autism spectrum, to make them real for the next generation. Knowing that I have Asperger’s is one of the greatest blessings in my life. Having a father who understood and shared my neurology is an even greater blessing. I appreciate you visiting with me and hope we stay in touch. I am always intrigued by fellow aspergirls with aspie-parents!

  5. Thank you for sharing your father with us. Mine, too, prefers short phone conversations (and is apt to interrupt me mid-sentence with “Here’s your mother.”), is beautifully honest, and is fiercely loyal.

    1. Thank you Natalia! I laughed when I read about your Dad. He sounds so familiar. Mine is the same– brief pleasantries followed by “Here’s you Mother.” I appreciate you visiting with me. 🙂

  6. Lori yes! I know so many dads on the spectrum and they often go under appreciated, my husbands a brilliant dad! Half the reason I fell in love with him in the first place! X x

    1. Thank you! ASD dads can bring a good deal to the table. With so much focus on ASD kids, it is important to remember that they grow up and sometimes become parents, too!

      Thanks for visiting!

  7. Reblogged this on TAG and commented:
    A beautiful tribute for Father’s Day. While this may not describe all fathers on the spectrum (what would?) it’s a reminder that the qualities often referred to as deficits may also be experienced as joy-filled expressions of love.

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging my post. You absolutely understood the gist of my writing. Imagine if the whole world looked at one another through deficit-colored glasses–what a sad place it would be. Celebrate life and personal dignity!

  8. I was also honest with my ‘NT’ daughter about Father Christmas and other fictional characters that children are indoctrinated to believe are real. It’s dishonest. It was not a hugely shocking revelation to her, and the sky did not fall.

    1. Good for you! Sometimes the world seems awash in propaganda, especially for children. They need respect and to think for themselves. I’m glad another parent has similar values.

  9. Reblogged this on bunnyhopscotch and commented:
    A lovely Father’s Day tribute from “A Quiet Week in the House.”

    My own beloved father was and will remain my hero for all time. He was a quirky dad, he never showed the kind of lovey-dovey affection that other dads did, he wasn’t emotionally ‘connected’ in the way the neurotypical world describes emotions, but he was my mentor and set the bar so high, colouring my perceptions for better or worse (people tell me I have to step down from my expectations, nobody will be like dad, but my view is, why settle for less?). We had our differences and arguments, but he was the best Aspie dad for this Aspie daughter. A polymathic intellectual as well as hands on creative, he had intensely focused passions ranging from art, music, literature, dance, film, to medicine, electrical and biomedical engineering, mechanics, carpentry, gardening and dogs. Dad showed me about professionalism in every interest I undertake. In his 70s, he was so avidly absorbed in computer systems, he had several computers in the house running on Mac OS, Linux, Windows, and was deep inside the bowels of Adobe Photoshop – I couldn’t keep up! Towards the end of his life, when I had just been diagnosed in my early forties, I told him about my diagnosis and that I suspected strongly that he too was Aspie. His reply? “I am not surprised.”

    I love you, my eccentric Aspie dad! And I miss you terribly even now.

    1. Bunny Hopscotch!

      Thank you very much for the reblog and sharing your story. Your father sounds like a wonderful man. What a lovely connection we share, to both be dxd in our 40s and to have Dads cut from the same cloth. It is a blessing to have family members who understand and share your gifts not only to have support in the challenging moments but to give you mental stimulation to fuel your own interests and explorations.

      I appreciate connecting with you and look forward to hearing from you in the future!

      Lori D.

      1. Thank you for a wonderful post, Lori! I was thinking of dad, but was not able to gather any suitable textual expression from the swirling mass inside my brain, until I found your post. Yes, indeed, although dad and I were not conscious of the Asperger’s, we shared a strange bond that despite our differences has seen me through and keeps me going at my work today.


  10. I think people who that’s the experience of a father on the spectrum that’s great but it doesn’t always go that way.

    1. You warm my heart with your acceptance and love for your boy. I wish all parents had this lovely attitude and spirit.

      Thank you for the cheer!

      Lori D

  11. This is such a beautiful story honoring your father. You are both blessed to have each other. Thank you.

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