From Denial To Acceptance: Raising Two Autistic Boys, My Journey as their Father

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Raising Aidan and Josiah

Hello.

My name is Alonzo, proud father of Aidan and Josiah, and husband to the “legendary” Tiffany Hammond. I have been tasked, rather bribed with a delicious meal of homemade gumbo, to share my journey as an Autism Dad. I would have done this without the gumbo, though.

I hope my story would help someone dealing with similar circumstances understand their unwavering and unconditional duty/purpose in raising a child or children with autism, and how much of a wonderful experience it is to learn from the children you helped bring into the world, teaching you how to be the best man you can be.

On March 16, 2007 at approximately 5:30 pm, my whole life changed. I was a father of a beautiful, healthy boy. At the time I had just completed college at Sam Houston State University, and just recently embarked on a challenging career as a Correctional Officer. From the moment I held him in my arms, heard his loud cries, and stared into my wife’s eyes (filled with tears of joy), I knew he was something was special. I named him after an actor (Aidan Quinn) who was on a television show Tiffany and I were watching and thought it was cool. At the time of his birth, the pediatricians at the hospital informed us that Aidan was healthy, with no signs of any medical issues.

Helping Aidan with his puzzle.

In my own mind, I had high hopes of him becoming the next premier athlete in a long line of Hammond men. It was a rite to passage for all the men in my family to play football, baseball, basketball, and run track and field. It was all about having mental toughness, courage to persevere, work hard, and be the “Alpha” in everything that you did in life.

From the time we took Aidan home from the hospital, and over the next year and a half, we observed him grow quickly and develop. Everything seemed to be normal for us new parents. Aidan began to crawl early at about 4 to 5 months, and as months went by, he appeared to make noises, mimicked words such, as “Dada” or “ball”. Aidan soon began walking and running around the house and appeared to have outstanding motor skills. Our extended family was also supportive in babysitting him, so Tiffany and I could relax, lounge, watch a movie, or go on short term trips on occasion.

Around the summer of 2008, I was promoted and moved our family to a city closer to our families. A short time later, I had learned that Tiffany, was pregnant again. Lord knows, I was not prepared for another child, but laughed and thought to myself, “it is what it is.”

On March 13, 2009 at approximately 10:00 am, another beautiful, healthy boy was born to me and Tiffany. I was just as nervous as the time Aidan was born, so nervous that I couldn’t even cut his umbilical cord, the obstetrician had to snatch the medical shears out of my hands to cut it (lol, I’m such a wimp at these things).

From the time I held him in my arms, I had the same optimism and outlook as I had with Aidan. I envisioned them to be successful athletes, hard-working, and perhaps some type of businessmen. For two days, “baby Hammond” didn’t have a name. Tiffany honored me the gift of naming our second child, just as she did with Aidan. I chose “Josiah”, which I took from an American Idol contestant, to which I thought was cool also. As I held Josiah in my arms, I would stare at Aidan who, was full of joy, laughter, and glee, but could not stare me in the eye, call me Daddy, or even acknowledge his little brother’s presence.

Just as I did the first time around, I took on the responsibility of being a parent, thankful for the blessing of being father, times two. During this time Tiffany began to suspect Aidan was digressing in some behaviors and not developing speech as most children normally were doing around his age. I also noticed some of these things Tiffany was explaining to me about Aidan, but I just ignored it, and kept an optimistic viewpoint that, “everything’s going to be alright. Nothing’s wrong.” My nonchalant, plus inattentiveness, due to being at work all day, every single day, coupled with not being there to witness most of Tiffany’s concerns about him, caused tension and a somewhat rift between us.

As months went by, Tiffany began to set up appointments to check whether Aidan was possibly deaf or may have some unidentified diagnosis which may be the cause of his delayed speech or development. Through medical observation, deafness was ruled out. However, he was diagnosed with a severe case of autism. I remember that day so vividly, I still get sad thinking about it. I still get sad sometimes when interacting with Aidan today. At the time of his diagnosis, I remember thinking that all my expectations and dreams for him were shattered. That me and Tiff would have to take care of him for the rest of our lives, and then someone or some facility would have to take over when we were gone.

It was also hard seeing your youngest son develop words and complete sentences in depth, successfully potty train, and learn to eat independently, but witnessing your oldest son still wearing pull-ups, unable to speak, and relying on hand over hand tasks such as eating and putting on clothing.

As Aidan became older, his maladaptive behaviors evolved and progressed as well. Some of his behaviors were so bizarre and self-injurious that me and Tiffany were apprehensive to take him into grocery stores, family outings, movie theaters, church, restaurants, etc.

Due to our overwhelming attention being on Aidan, I believe we failed to notice our youngest son, Josiah, was being deprived of socializing with others and playing with kids like other children should be doing around his age. I felt that he was missing out, and we were to blame. But little did I know, he ENJOYED missing out, and that he had an underlying condition we didn’t know about.

Josiah and I from our time getting lost in one of Austin’s many parks.

Josiah, though he was just a child himself, helped us deal with Aidan’s Autism by playing and interacting with him as if he were a neurotypical child. Josiah would (and still does) help guide Aidan on how to complete certain tasks such as picking up toys, eating with utensils, encourage him to say words, etc. We later discovered that Josiah had his own social developmental issues of his own, and through visiting 3 different professionals, we later found out, he was diagnosed with Autism, Level 2.

I was in denial along with some of our family members, believing he was “just fine.” And like I thought with Aidan, “Everything is alright. Nothing’s wrong with him.”  

As years went by, Aidan and Josiah began elementary school. Tiffany and I were fearful but hopeful for the opportunity for our kids to learn and socialize with others. However, things did not go to plan. Josiah’s transition was a slightly better than Aidan’s at the beginning. Due to Aidan’s behaviors and severity of his Autism, he was moved to another school on the other side of town, which was supposed to have a specialist better equipped to educate him. Tiffany was called constantly to the school to come pick Aidan up because the teachers and aides could not tend to the other children due to most of their attention being on Aidan. 

School was a stressful time for all of us, especially Aidan. He developed stomach ulcers from being so stressed and nervous there. A few times he was struck by teacher’s aides, and we had CPS called on us because he didn’t like to wear socks and his pull-ups were too big. Tiffany and I felt humiliated and embarrassed because of this because we were doing everything in our power to properly take care of our kids. We often clashed with his school administrators due to their lack of understanding. Did you know that it isn’t required of the teachers and aides to have training in educating those with Autism? I didn’t either. Until the incident with the aide hitting our son, my wife made sure that from that moment on, training was to be implemented on those that were to work with our son, and others.

Because of my background in working in administration in a correctional facility, I understood training and the understanding of different or diverse types of individuals was vital in educating and providing a safe, secure environment. Through several conversations with Aidan’s school administrators, they developed a special needs program that not only helped Aidan but helped other kids similar to him. Things began to get better, but still not the best.

I promoted once more. We moved again, still close to family. Josiah was elated and excited that we were moving, and Aidan, who knows. Once we placed them in school, Aidan, of course, had his challenges adapting to a new school, but slowly over time, the teachers learned how to manage and deal with him.

On the other hand, Josiah was struggling with socializing and participating with the class, but was somehow well advanced in reading, writing, and mathematical skills, which kept him ahead of the other students. Josiah expressed discomfort in the school setting. He told us it was too many people, it was too loud, he was too anxious, but because of his incredible grades and impeccable behavior reports, we didn’t think much of it.

One of Josiah’s teachers suggested he participate in the spelling bee. As a father I was proud and very supportive of his participation. However, during his first spelling bee, Josiah was anxious, and then went mute. But thinking back on it, he NEVER speaks in school. So, I don’t know how I thought a Spelling Bee would help that. I could not understand. I knew Josiah could say and spell the words, but his condition would not let him do it. I would get frustrated with him, and Tiffany would argue with me and tell me that I was in denial and I was not understanding enough.

As the months and weeks went by, Josiah became more resistant to going to school, and began developing attachment issues with his mother, to which she would have to spend a large sum of the day with him at school in order for him to be comfortable enough to let her leave. Meanwhile, Tiffany and I tried respite programs for our children so we could hang out or go to a movie every once in a while, but they were deemed unsuccessful due to the aides inability to properly care for our kids. It was a time that Tiffany and I thought Aidan was the more unmanageable of the two, but Josiah was quickly becoming the more problematic one.

Over time, it had occurred to me that Josiah’s behavior at school was becoming more and more troublesome, in which he would throw chairs, sit down in the hallway, declined cooperating in class, and even refuse getting out of the car to go to school. Sometimes, I would have to leave work and go up to the school to calm him down. I would get very frustrated at him and forgot that I am dealing with an Autistic child with anxiety and that I should have a little more understanding.

I live for these smiles.

Through time and deep conversations with Tiffany, I began to realize that I was a bit selfish, that I should have been more helpful and fatherly, and that I let my career take the front seat to our family. I started to be more engaged and attentive to Josiah and Aidan’s needs.

Being a husband and father, I could see the frustration and depression my wife was experiencing, but I continued to be her rock, no matter what. As our children grew, so did their challenges. We began to see that it became more difficult for us to have family watch them so that we could have a small break. Because of this, Tiffany and I exiled ourselves from our families in an effort to not be “let down.”

Over time, we began to grow and accept our boys’ Autism. They are Autistic and that is something that is a major part of who they are. I know this now. And I do all I can to help them be the best versions of themselves, with Autism. My journey has been long, and often difficult. From denial to grief, to guilt over denying their Autism and regret over not recognizing Josiah’s sooner. To guilt for grieving the loss of my dreams for them. And finally, to acceptance of who they are.

Presently, Josiah and Aidan are still going through challenges, and are growing from boys to young men as I type. Being their father has made me a better man and husband. I don’t regret any single day I’ve been in their lives and would not replace them with anything or anyone in this world. They are exactly who they are supposed to be.

Each day is a lesson learned, and every milestone they accomplish is a blessing. I learned to accept the fact they would possibly never be what I once aspired them to be, but now realize they will be greater than anything I could have imagined, because they have us to love them and support them.  

As parents, we still deal with the stares and whispers from others around us in the open when they see our children expressing themselves, which may differ from the norm, but Aidan and Josiah know that we will always have their back and support, no matter what. Stim on, boys.

In closing, I will leave you with these words a co-worker told me once I learned Tiffany was pregnant with Aidan which also helped me with Josiah. I asked my co-worker, who had been a father of five, how do you raise a child when you have never been a father before? He replied, “Just love them…love them, and keep loving them no matter what. That’s the secret.”

Signing off,

Alonzo “Hammy” Hammond

Proud Autism Dad to two amazing Autistic boys.