Andy is dad to Will who is Autistic. We sat down to chat about his insights and experiences on raising a child with disability and what he’s learnt so far.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a dad of a child with disability, and how do you navigate them?
I find the expectations the hardest. I’ve always had high expectations, but it seems many other people don’t, which I think is wrong. Will might not be the world’s best athlete but he can be much greater than most people expect him to be. I’ll always push him to be the best version of himself possible. But at the same time, try to have the humility to understand when it’s too far for him.
How do you balance the needs of your child with a disability with the needs of your other children?
I think in the main we do a good job of this. Our youngest (neurotypical) does occasionally sense he’s missing out, and it’s a tough gig as he’s forced to be much more mature than his years. But we do as much as we can to create fairness and balance, even if that sometimes results in near meltdowns from Will. Our youngest plays a lot of sport and gets one-on-one time with each of us. We pay special attention to him when he’s seeking it and we ensure both boys get an opportunity to speak and have their opinions and thoughts valued.
How do you prioritise and maintain your own well-being and emotional health while caring for your child?
I’m very active; I run, exercise and mountain bike every week. I also work on jobs around the house to keep busy, so we are always progressing and moving forward which helps me mentally to feel more positive and create a perspective that today is better than yesterday.
What are your biggest fears for your child and how do you manage those feelings?
Will he ever be independent enough to live on his own? Will he find a partner? Have kids? Or what does he actually want out of life? What will make him happy? It’s like the world’s hardest puzzle and we are trying to help crack the code so we can guide and assist him on the journey. Often what we want is nothing like what he wants, so until he’s capable enough to tell us, we’ll just be there for him. But the uncertainty of what life will bring is certainly amplified.
What advice would you give to other dads who are new to parenting a child with disability?
Firstly, it’s ok to believe it! Secondly, you are a huge role model, so your beliefs and actions around your child are so influential. Always look for ways to influence them positively and keep pushing the boundaries of how great life can be.
What are some of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced as a dad?
I love his obsessions. It may sound crazy but we’ve been through so many. From cds, to hand dryers to telephones, traffic lights, space and now tunnels & claw machines. He gets so excited – so much so that he’ll talk the ear off anyone willing to listen. By nurturing these obsessions, we are opening up his skills in the wider world and increasing his social engagement. I can’t wait for the next one, who knows what it’ll be!!