Like a lot of guys I know, I fancy myself a problem solver. It’s how I keep order in my universe. I’m uncomfortable with seemingly unsolvable problems, so I chew on them at night, turning budget challenges or scheduling issues over in my mind until I find the perfect workaround.
So when Graham was diagnosed with autism almost six years ago, my inner problem solver went into hyper-drive. In some ways that makes Graham lucky: I scoured the globe looking for the best ways to help him. But, in other ways, looking back, I feel sorry for the kid. Here he had this maniacal man following him around everywhere he went, strapping distortion lenses on his cute little face, flying him halfway around the world to specialists, making him do strange therapies, attaching electrodes to his little head to monitor his brain waves, and spooning supplements and other pills down his gullet. Meanwhile, he was just trying to be three.
Taking the long view, I guess we’re both lucky. He has benefited enormously from our interventions (most of them, anyway), and I think I’ve finally been cured of my need to fix my child. Some problems, it has finally occurred to me, aren’t problems. Things don’t need to be exactly as I would have wanted or expected for them to be perfectly okay. I arrived at this new place, ironically, because we found therapies that dramatically improved Graham’s functioning. It’s like, when early therapies seemed off the mark, I became more obsessed with finding the right fix. But when we found therapies that worked for him, but fell short of a “cure”, I finally realized that this child standing before me, with his quirks and his struggles, his uniqueness and his innocence, is just exactly how Graham is meant to be.
This comes as an enormous relief to me. The switch from obsessed fixer, to dad, tutor, coach, counselor, cheerleader and pal, is so much easier on both of us.
Being a problem solver is still a big part of who I am, but when it comes to childrearing, it’s important, I’ve learned, to balance the desire to help him be all he can be, with respect for the person he already is.
Erik Linthorst’s award-winning film “Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story” (www.autisticlike.com) will be coming to PBS stations around the country this April.