Special Needs Now

Why I Can Relate to the Dad Who Realized He's Autistic Only After His Daughter's Diagnosis

An Australian mom's blog post about her husband's autism diagnosis is a celebration of love, difference, and acceptance.

Jessica and Chris Offer Courtesy Jessica Offer

Jessica and Chris Offer, an Australian couple who have four daughters, were married for seven years before Chis got an autism diagnosis. When the Offer's oldest daughter was diagnosed, Jessica and Chris realized that many of the traits they saw in their child were in fact Chris' "quirks" as well. Earlier this week, Jessica wrote a lovely blog post about Chris, which celebrates his difference and reaffirms her commitment to him.

In that post, she says: "Autism didn't change my husband. He's never not been autistic and it's what makes him who he is. But maybe his earlier formative years would have been a lot less stressful and hard for him had his autism been recognized so he could have gained the appropriate support and learned strategies at a young age; rather than having to cleverly wing it for over 25 years."

Although the Offers' story is trending right now, it's actually quite a common narrative. And it's one that's important to share so we can raise acceptance for the autistic adults already in our midst.

You see, like Chris Offer, many, many autistic adults don't receive diagnoses until later in life. In fact, all four of the autistic moms I talked to for a recent Parents.com article only realized they were autistic after their children were diagnosed. Likewise, autistic writer John Elder Robinson, who was diagnosed at age 40, said in his book Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian: "Asperger's explained so many things...My new knowledge of Asperger's brought [my] memories into focus, and I saw how the differences in my brain had shaped the course of my life in countless subtle ways....As I moved forward with new knowledge and confidence, I started to see my life get better every day."

David Finch, another autistic adult who got a diagnosis late in life, has written a great book about his journey towards a diagnosis called The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband (which I highly recommend for both its insight and humor).

Even in my own life, this story rings true. When my oldest son got his diagnosis four years ago, I wrote a blog post called "Diagnosis for Dad," which is all about my husband and how his "quirks" clearly place him on the spectrum. In that post, I mull questions like: "Would [my husband getting an autism diagnosis] help our sons feel more accepted as they grow up—one with a much more severe form of autism and the other an unknown quantity at this point? Would it help [my husband] feel more comfortable in his own skin? Would it inspire others to get the diagnosis as well? Would it provide a compelling example of what someone on the spectrum can accomplish? Would it be an entrée to the realm of ASD that I can never access because I'm not on the spectrum? Would he be more qualified to speak about ASD with a diagnosis?"

Although my husband has never gotten a formal diagnosis, I still believe now what I wrote then: "My husband is an amazing person, with or without the diagnosis. If he gets the diagnosis as an adult, I'll support him. If he doesn't, we'll both know the truth of it: [...] like every child and person on the spectrum, he is unique, worth getting to know, and perfect—just the way he is."

Jamie Pacton lives in the Pacific Northwest where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com and Twitter @jamiepacton.