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My Son Doesn't Have Autism, Does He? A Father's Story.

Hi, I'm Pascal and I have a little boy named “Gabe”, short for Gabriel. He is 5 years old and in kindergarten. I want to share my experience as the parent of an autistic child. From noticing small things but not knowing what they meant, all the way to getting a diagnosis and living with the “etiquette” of having an autistic child.

Gabe was born in October 2017. He was myself and Laura’s 3rd child after having 2 daughters. They were 2 and 5 when he was born. As Gabe got a little older, we started bringing him to the scheduled checkups that all children have to go through. These appointments checked on verbal, motor skills and hearing. Some of the testing came back normal, in some cases he was behind and they told us it was just things to keep an eye on. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 18 month old child - maybe his older sisters “probably do all the talking for him”. We noticed that Gabe was a late walker, talker and also disliked some loud noises, like my air compressor, amongst a few more small quirks.

Laura is a social worker and therapist and has always been very proactive regarding our kids mental and physical progress. I, on the other hand, would consider myself “old school” in my beliefs. My favourite line was “he’s fine, he’s just a kid”. I remember Laura often asking me if I thought it was odd he would cover his ears when the water from the spout hit the bottom of the tub when he took a bath. She asked me several times if I shared her worries about him not having many words at his 18 month assessment. These are only a couple of examples of how her proactive approach and “gut feeling” was not lying to her.

After a while, we both agreed to start investigating a little further into these “quirks”. This was the best thing we ever did for him. I will be forever grateful for Laura’s progressive approach as I can see that accepting the reality and getting Gabe the help he needed allowed him to thrive.

We started seeing a paediatric doctor and began writing down everything we had noticed - sensitivity to loud noises, slower than average to start walking, very few words or even sounds by age 2, lining trucks up on the floor meticulously, high pitch voice, to name a few. We went to numerous appointments - doctors, hearing specialists and he started speech therapy as well. We had a few appointments with the people responsible for assessing him to see if he actually had autism. I remember as a “old school thinking” parent, I was always defending his “quirks”. I always seemed to have an answer for the little things they knew were typical of an autistic child. Every time I would disagree and say, all the kids do this, not just him. I was arguing with professionals, people that work in that field and do this everyday. I was in total denial.

I remember the day the professionals called me and Laura on a zoom call, to tell us the results of the testing and to give us the diagnosis….they told us he had autism. I was mad, confused, sad, I didn’t believe them. I couldn’t keep it together. I told them they were wrong and I hung up the zoom in their faces. When we got home, Laura and I sat down and talked. She calmed me down, told me it was going to be okay. - that he’s still the amazing little boy that we know and love, and that we will provide him with all the tools needed to help him succeed in life and put all the chances on his side so he can thrive just like a neurotypical child. Gabe started speech therapy at 2 years old, and at 3 years old he started preschool. At 4 he was part of the autism intervention program - at home, at the babysitter and at pre-school. We started noticing improvements very quickly, from speech to the way he interacted with other kids. He is able to keep up with the program and yes, sometimes he needs a little help. He makes friends and is not afraid to go out of his comfort zone. He calls himself the Lego master, he easily assembles large 500-piece lego kits labelled for 9+ year olds all by himself.

Gabe is proud of his many “super powers” and he is not scared of showing them off. I’m so glad I came to accept that a child with autism isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean he will live at home forever or never get married. He recently learned how to ski, he’s funny and so smart. He is amazing.

I am forever thankful for Laura, for pushing me out of my comfort zone and becoming a team to provide Gabe with the help he needs to be the best version of himself.

The moral of the story? Keep an open mind, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you notice small things that seem a little weird. I know it can sound scary, or frustrating sometimes, I’ve been there. But at the end of the day, it’s not about you, it’s about a child that could need that little extra help. Help is there, it costs nothing, and it’s the biggest gift you could ever give them.

- Pascal Frenette, Gabe's Dad

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