Dads helping Dads –
Finding resources and programs for men
by John Krejcha –
When it comes to autism-related parenting resources, there are many blogs, books, support groups, websites and forums dedicated toward moms. Parenting resources in general often share a female perspective. Despite a growing number of fathers in traditional or single parent families who actively participate in child rearing, resources specifically focusing on fathers are few and far-between. Dads need support, too.
Take a moment and visualize active autism parenting support groups within your local community. What did you see? If you pictured a room filled with moms talking about the challenges, struggles, and triumphs of their youth and adult children, that would be quite common. If you imagined a coed parent support group where both parents attended together, you might have pictured utopia. Unfortunately, coed autism parenting groups are rare, and when they do exist, the moms outnumber the dads in the room, often by at least four-to-one.
Because this article is geared toward dads, maybe you imagined a gathering for fathers? Did you visualize a group of dads, grandfathers or male caregivers casually sitting at a table or standing around a grill talking about IEP options and parenting successes? Did you see dads from all walks of life chatting about puberty, hygiene, school transitions, the autism grief cycle and that often dreaded f-word — feelings?
The truth in our community and regions throughout the country is that it is rare to find active in-person support groups for dads parenting children on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities. Why is that the case? How as a village working to be stronger together do we enrich and empower fathers, providing the parenting support, education and resources that they need?
First, we start a conversation. Autism Empowerment (AE) and Spectrums Magazine recently conducted a survey of dads in Oregon and Southwest Washington who were parenting children of all ages and abilities on the autism spectrum. Some respondents regularly attended Autism Empowerment’s monthly support group for dads but 65% of respondents had never attended a support group of any type.
- Relief from feeling they were not isolated.
- Getting tips from other dads who have been in similar situations.
- Bonding and friendships with other dads walking a similar journey
- Assistance with IEPs and school-related issues
- Figuring out strategies on how they could be a better parent
- Learning about recreational, social and educational resources
- Improved relationships with their son/daughter(s) and spouse/significant other
- Strengthened faith
Doug Underwood, a Vancouver dad with a son on the spectrum shared, “I don’t feel alone, I started to bond and build friendships with other dads walking a similar path.” He continued, “I really struggled with the lack of acceptance that was happening with my son and our family. The dads’ support group has helped me with that.”
John G. shared, “We are all at the same starting point when we walk into the meeting. We are all dads, so we all have at least that in common and it’s a great starting point to build a relationship”.
One dad who regularly attends the dads’ support group and facilitates a separate AE support group for Parents of Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum has two adult sons. Jason Keesee shared, “I come because I want to give back to the dads with younger kids. I have already been through the IEP battles, and I have walked the path that many of the other dads are just starting. This is my time to give back.”
“I was fortunate enough to have friends and family to help me and my wife along this journey of ours. Not everybody has that. It’s easy to feel lost and not know where to turn or where to start when it comes to finding help for our special needs children. I felt it was my duty as a parent of a child (or two, in my case) on the autism spectrum to help others who did struggle and are struggling. As parents, we are all in this together.”
So, why with all these benefits for dads are more men not attending support groups? What would be incentives to make them attend?
- Volunteer dad ambassadors to mentor and answer questions for other dads
- Guest speakers (Autistic adults, service providers, other dads)
- Outside opportunities for socialization (e.g. bowling, BBQ, family events)
The top reasons dads mentioned for not attending support group meetings were fear and conflicting schedules.
- Personal anxiety or social discomfort
- Fear of not being able to relate or being seen as weak
- Date, time or location was not convenient
- Lack of childcare
“Support groups are necessary because dads have some unique challenges when it comes to children on the spectrum, but my schedule prevents me from coming,” says Vancouver dad, Jeff O’Gorman about the challenges of making meetings.
Robert confessed, “I’m nervous I would be an outsider at the group and seen as weak in my home. The way I was brought up, men were to be the providers, the ones who fixed everything. I want to be a better father but I’m embarrassed to take that first step.”
Adrian shared, “As an Aspie dad parenting an Autistic daughter, I think I could offer some insight to a fathers’ group but getting over my social anxiety to make it to that first meeting has been tough.”
Anxiety is a common feeling that dads experience and nothing to be ashamed of. In Autism Empowerment’s monthly support group for dads, the atmosphere is casual, friendly and accepting. Dads identifying on the autism spectrum are always welcome and their contributions are valued.
If you or someone you know wants to attend an autism support group but is trying to overcome that hurdle, consider these words of advice from long-time support group attendee, Aaron Blackwelder. “Support is essential. Take the first step to embrace autism. There is beauty in it.”
Moms and significant others, you can also help with words of encouragement, support and strength. Most dads do want and need support from their peers but they need your acceptance and understanding too.
For the dads out there in our autism community, you are not alone. There is support for you in-person and online. Reach out and engage. When we learn together, we forge connections. Having the opportunity to bond with other dads who get what we’re going through adds strategies for your parenting toolbox and peace to your journey.
You and your family are worth the investment.
John Krejcha is co-founder of Autism Empowerment and serves as Program Director. He oversees Community Outreach and facilitates the Southwest Washington Dads’ Autism Support Group. John is father to two amazing sons on the autism spectrum and is married to Autism Empowerment co-founder, Karen Krejcha
For more information, please check out these options and resources:
Autism Empowerment – SW WA Dads’ Autism Support Group (WA) – Meets the 3rd Friday of most months in Vancouver, WA from 6:30 – 8:30 PM – www.bit.ly/aedadsgroup (webpage) and https://www.facebook.com/groups/340499526101697/ (FB)
Dads of Disability – www.dadsofdisability.com
DadsMOVE – http://dadsmove.org
WA State Father’s Network – http://fathersnetwork.org