“When you get that diagnosis, it’s like a kick in the guts.” This is one of the opening lines in DAD film, a documentary by Autism Awareness Australia. It’s based on the lives of 12 Aussie dads, all of whom have a child on the spectrum.
After my child was diagnosed, it took me over a year to finally turn to my husband and ask, “how are you coping with all of this”?
His answer: “I don’t know that I am, I’m just in it.”
Not really good enough is it?
Boarding the emotional roller coaster
DAD Film shines the light on the emotional roller coaster that is parenting a child with ASD. From the stages of denial, anger, resentment and pity, all the way to joy, elation, acceptance and resilience. These 12 fathers opened their homes and hearts and let us be part of their private journey. Collectively their story is told simply, honestly and candidly.
There should be no shame in feeling anger and hurt at the realisation your child has a diagnosis of autism. Some dads describe feeling emotionally winded… just everything draining from their body and feeling empty.
There is stoicism here, but these men shed tears too. Tears of confusion and guilt for grieving for the child they hoped that would have. Tears for the challenges that lie ahead as their world and their family have been changed forever.
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DAD Film highlights the team effort
Like any home across Australia, in the home of an Autistic child, it’s statistically most likely that the mother is the doer – and when I say that, I mean the organiser of the therapies, the one visiting the school, the one making the adjustments and preparations and minimising impacts so there are fewer meltdowns… and so on it goes. It is also sad to say, that the divorce rate is higher for parents with a child on the spectrum.
As one of the dads in DAD Film shares, “It’s a team effort, you can’t do it alone and you can’t expect your partner to do it alone”. These conversations are essential to the longevity of a successful marriage and partnership, and I am so glad DAD Film touched on this issue. It opens the door to speak about support, and nurturing one another and about mutual respect.
The mental load of parenting a child with ASD
The stories of each of the fathers in DAD Film resonated so deeply for both my husband and I. More importantly it reminded us of our connection. A realisation that we are not alone, even though the path ahead will be hard.
At times in my mothering journey I have envied my husband’s role. He can get up and go to work and not worry if the school will call or to make that appointment with OT and strategise about which behaviours to work on next. Caring for an ASD child is emotionally draining.
Recently, I started to share more about how emotionally drained I felt, of needing to share the load (even mentally) and bring my husband further into the world of parenting our child with autism. He admits now, that he was in denial for a long time. He admits he didn’t know what to do.
DAD Film touches on just how vulnerable dads can feel too. I bet it is a lot harder for men to open up and ask their mates for guidance than it is for us mothers. We are the over-sharers. They are not.
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The documentary is a celebration of dads who are fathering children on the spectrum and it couldn’t be more needed. The fathers share real advice, open up about their challenges and articulate their thoughts beautifully. The biggest celebrations is their love and commitment to their role as father.
“It’s the club you never wanted to join, but the best people are in it,” says one.
To watch the film, please head to DAD Film.
This film is ideal for anyone connected to a family with autism – not just parents.