Growing up Autistic, whether you’re diagnosed or not, can be a tough gig in a world where difference isn’t always celebrated. I was once that kid, and I know from experience that it’s easy to internalise a lot of the negativity around us.
That’s why, at the I CAN Network, we place so much emphasis on building positive support networks that empower young Autistics. And for some of us, one of the most important members in that network is our dad.
My own dad, Curl Williams (pictured below), was certainly a central pillar of mine.
As a kid, every time I thought I couldn’t do something and said so, he’d tell me, “Rubbish, you should give it a go” and when I did, I nearly always did far better than I expected. He never doubted me the way I doubted myself, and his unshakable belief in me was like a breakwater against the constant crashing waves of self-doubt.
In honour of Father’s Day, several members across our I CAN Network community have shared their reflections on how their dad or other adult figure helped them develop a more positive self of sense as an Autistic young person. We appreciate that not everyone has had that type of support.
Whether it’s a parent, relative, teacher or friend, every Autistic young person deserves adults in their lives who will accept and embrace them for who they are. These invaluable champions can teach us at a young age to believe in ourselves and to say with confidence, “I CAN.”
Max Williams, Editor
“My dad is pretty awesome. He has introduced me to lots of great classic rock and new wave music. He really encourages me to pursue the things that I love. My dad doesn’t always understand me, but I can tell he tries. He even has an advice book written by Autistic girls and women that he keeps next to his bed!” (I CAN Mentee)
“You know when people say, ‘One adult can make a difference in a child’s life?’ That was my story. Growing up, my dad wasn’t around and I didn’t really have any strong male role models in my family, though I desperately wanted one. My Year 8 English teacher was the first person to fill that void. He could see my strengths amongst my challenges, and as a 14-year-old with a lot of self-doubt, that really changed how I started to see myself. (I CAN Supporter)
“We did not know as I was growing up that I was Autistic, but [my dad] was accepting of my quirks and encouraging of my interests, driving me to the library every weekend when I was eleven to borrow a stack of twenty books per week. By his love, he taught me how to love myself and others. My father is an amazing person and my friends think he’s a really cool dad.” (I CAN Supporter)
“My dad is Autistic but he didn’t know that when he was my age. It was hard for him growing up and that’s why he and my mum try so hard to make things better for me. They always remind me that I am a great person and that I have lots of strengths. ” (I CAN Mentee)
“[My father] unfortunately wasn’t very supportive. Luckily I had some other father figures to look up to that were supportive of me, particularly my grandfather. Having role models in my life that encouraged self-worth helped me adopt a positive Autistic identity.” (I CAN Team Member)
“[My dad] engaged in my interests with me, showing me that it was positive to be interested in the topics I was (e.g., old films from the golden era and westerns).” (I CAN Supporter)
“Whenever I felt down or like I hadn’t done well enough, he would always lift me up and tell me how well I was doing.” (I CAN Supporter)
“My dad encouraged me by using positive language, being interested in what I was doing work/study wise and encouraging me to do something that I enjoyed.” (I CAN Mentor)
“My dad was magnificent, the personification of love – real, unapologetic, unconditional, love. From a very young age, he instilled in me the idea that I could be anything I wanted; that I was enough, and should never apologise for taking up space.” (I CAN Supporter)
“Whenever I’ve doubted myself, he’s always reminded me of what I’ve already achieved and what I’m capable of achieving right now.” (I CAN Mentor)
“When I told my father about my diagnosis, he was so understanding. ‘That makes sense to me,’ he said. And he never said a bad word about it. He just continued to encourage me to reach for the stars and to believe in myself.” (I CAN Supporter)
“In giving me unconditional love, my father also gave me the precious gift of self-worth and value. He cheered for me when I won at life, and when I failed he only reminded me of the parts I did really well.” (I CAN Mentor)
“Dad takes me to all the cool cycling trails and I will do that when I have kids.” (I CAN Supporter)
“My dad tells me that I am the most fascinating person he knows and that makes me proud to be me.” (I CAN Mentee)