autism Mental health SINGLE PARENT fatherhood

2019 Year Got Me A Challenging Phase

( words)
*For representational purpose only.

In 2019, Rewansh, my son, was not behaving like a typical child, so I took him for a checkup. I was taken aback by the revelation of his health condition. Rewansh was diagnosed with autism. His diagnosis revealed that he has developmental delays and is on the autism spectrum. He had not developed speech other than blabbering. Despite being nearly three years old, his mental development and motor skills were those of a one-year-old. I was haunted by the questions of what could have been and where I should go from here. I remember shedding some tears, but it could not help as my tears could not change reality. Despite the sadness, I was determined to make the most of our new reality. As I tried to come to terms with his diagnosis, I found solace in the only thing I could do: find the best possible therapy for him.

During this time, I used online resources, read about the signs and symptoms, and sought expert help to find suitable therapy centres nearby. While his assessments were going on, my brain and heart reacted differently. It wasn't easy, however, and I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge I needed to process and the decisions I had to make. I remember eating chocolate sometimes when I felt low or sad during this period. I tried to take some time off with atomic habits like cooking, baking, painting, resin crafts, gardening, poetry, taking indoor walks, and heading to the gym for fitness. I also consulted doctors for my own mental health because, at one point, I needed guidance and help. I felt like I was in a state of limbo, unable to accept the present and unwilling to leave the past.

The journey was not easy for me at the beginning, and it is not easy now. I also suffered emotional turmoil and sobbed many times. I could not find anyone who might have been through a similar situation and could guide me. The only ray of hope was reaching out to experts and actively seeking knowledge because they gave me the strength and courage to continue my journey. Despite the difficulty and emotional hardship, I kept pushing forward and never gave up.

I remember one incident when I took Rewansh to a physician for a checkup. He felt uncomfortable in social places like any other autistic kid, so he wanted to leave the clinic.

The receptionist observed us for some time and then asked, "Isko koi mental problem hai kya?" (Does he have any mental problem)?
For a few seconds, I was speechless. Then I took a deep breath, and within a fraction of a second, many thoughts flashed in my mind, and I calmly replied, “He is autistic." I took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay composed and address the situation with my words, not my emotions. People will say and perceive, but I need to keep calm; the other person has asked something, so respond, do not react, was one of the thoughts. As parents or caregivers for people in need, we come across such situations. We need to be clear about our priorities. We are not there to fight with the world but must focus on what is required. I have learned to take responsibility for my life and take control of my emotions. I have come to understand that while I may not have the power to control the world, I do have the power to control how I respond to it.

As a single parent, I had to manage the finances and family all together, so I contacted my manager and asked for a flexible schedule (beginning and ending work early). I was lucky enough to have built a strong support system around me, including my parents, friends, manager, and son's preschool. They all helped me take care of my son, and I can't thank God enough for surrounding me with such kind souls. There have been many behavioural and other improvements in Rewansh by now. He has started to respond to his name, make eye contact for a longer duration, and recognises facial expressions. His attention span has increased, and he has learned to write the alphabet and numerals (1–50). Surprisingly, he could identify simple words without teaching him the spelling.

Single parenthood is a challenging phase that requires a lot of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice.
It can be physically and emotionally exhausting and take a toll on one's finances and mental health. Raising a child in a patriarchal society can make things even more difficult for single fathers. In my case, I am divorced and have to take care of my elderly parents and my son. All these responsibilities are overwhelming, but what keeps me going is being there for my son whenever he needs me and making sure that he gets the best care possible.

Parents dream of seeing their children accomplish success in all endeavours, but little do they realise that every child has a different growth story. Children with autism need additional help, time, and simplification. As parents and caregivers, we must understand and adjust to the associated life pace. It is necessary to appreciate the baby steps one is taking toward life. Never compare your child with anyone else's. Value your kids' achievements and celebrate them. Kids are not objects for social show-offs. We must expect something from the child based on his or her ability, capability, and level of expertise.

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