Favorite Things

September 13, 2011

By Dan Coulter

What’s your favorite thing?  The thing you look forward to.  The thing that gives you a rush just to think about it. 

Interesting discovery: It can be just as big a rush to help your child find and do his favorite thing. 

It’s tempting to want our children to love the things we love.  Sometimes we try and guide them in that direction.  A while back I met a father, John, who loves sports.  His first three children shared that passion, and it brought them closer.  But his fourth child, Juan, wasn’t interested.  Juan had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  He loved animals, especially dinosaurs.  Juan also had a passion for collecting facts and sharing them with his family. 

John knew relating to Juan through sports could help them bond.  Not being able to interest Juan in the thing his siblings all shared with their dad made John feel he was failing as a father. 

One day during football season, John got up and said, “Hey, Juan, we’re going to go out and throw the football around!”   After about 20 minutes of tossing the football back and forth, Juan said, “Dad, can we go in?”   John said, “Sure!”   He was proud, thinking, “I’ve got him hooked.  He’s going to play football.”  Then Juan said, “Dad, can I ask you a question?”  John figured Juan would ask, “Can we do this again?” or “Who’s the leading rusher in the NFL?” 

“Sure, Juan. What do you want to ask?” 

“Dad, are you happy now?”

In John’s words, “Right at that moment, I realized something.  He taught me a valuable lesson: that it’s not really about what I wanted. That it was about what he wanted and about what made him happy.”

When my son Drew, who also has Asperger Syndrome, was little, I bought two radio-controlled model cars.  On Saturday mornings, we’d go to an empty office building parking lot.  At first, I suggested we race the cars around the lot.  That’s what you do with race cars.  But competition made Drew anxious.  He just wanted to enjoy the mechanics of the car, and zoom it around the lot without pressure to fit someone else’s agenda.  Seeing him happy helped my impulse to race evaporate.

Recently, I read a New York Times article about the book, “Following Ezra,” by Tom Fields-Meyer.  The author shares a story about taking his son who has autism to the zoo, “...he stopped his incessant chatter about Disney movies and breakfast cereals; he stopped flapping his arms and pacing.  And he talked to me.”

There are plenty of ways our children need to learn to conform and meet other people’s expectations if they want to be accepted.  But helping them find the thing they love and do it their way can be an opportunity to relieve their stress and give them joy.

And associating dad and mom with joy can make a child more willing to do the other, difficult things that dads and moms inevitably ask.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD, “Asperger Syndrome for Dads: Becoming an Even Better Father to Your Child with Asperger Syndrome.”  You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2011 Dan Coulter  All Rights Reserved     Used By Permission

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