Last night, for the first time in a few months, I managed to make it to my dads’ support group over at the ARC.
I happen to like going to the group – while it is open to fathers of children with many different kinds of disabilities, the vast majority of our children are on the spectrum. The group is still somewhat stable on a month-to-month basis at about eight or so, though apparently there’ve been a few dropping in and out like I’ve been doing of late.
One of the readers on my tweet-feed asked me yesterday for my thoughts on what can make these kinds of things more valuable or enjoyable.
The honest answer is this: I like going to my support group for a couple of reasons:
First, it’s all men. It’s a very different vibe to the group than when you end up with a mixed group. I’ve found that when I’m in a mixed group, I spend more time hearing and talking about the difficulties of having a child with a developmental disability more than talking about the good things, the successes and the general day-to-day stuff.
Second, it’s all parents who understand what I’m going through. As was said last night – one of the parents is celebrating that his eight-year-old is taking his first real steps. Where else would you have a group that doesn’t seem to think that’s unusual, and it’s something worth celebrating without the awkwardness that a statement in a different setting might bring?
Finally… it’s safe. It gives us dads a place to vent about our frustrations, since men naturally want to “fix” things, and Autism is not something that you can really “fix”. It’s not stuff I can necessarily say at home since a) the wife doesn’t necessarily agree with me on what priorities ought to be and b) let’s be honest – she has enough anxieties about things herself. On the flip side, it also lets us make light sometimes of what our kids do out in the world, and that’s also not always appropriate conversation for a mixed group.
The safety of it is really the biggest thing to me. Certainly, yes, I’m hardly shy about talking about the Monster’s Autism – many of my readers here know me offline and know how I’m willing to talk about the struggles and the successes in most environments… but I will also admit that (even here), I pull my punches sometimes. There are things I don’t quite know how to talk about with people who aren’t going through the same thing, mostly because it would involve so much background as to bury folks in the details (and make them regret they asked). And when I do talk about those things, it’s nice not to be judged on the very uneven playing field on which I’ve found myself.
But that’s the long and short of it.