A sort of response to yesterday’s post (Day #140 – A Different Type of Loss) about grandparents. Tucker has a bond with my dad that goes beyond his middle name. It’s something deeper – an unexpected, atypical connection. A version of this blog will be featured in the March issue of Wallace’s Farmer.
According to the latest statistics from the CDC about 1 in 68 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the 1960’s when my dad was in school the rate of autism was 1 in 10,000. At this rate the rate of diagnosis will be 1 in 2 by 2025. Plenty of researchers are trying to give meaning to the increase, one of which is increased diagnosis and wider spectrum of what is classified as an ASD.
The characteristics of autism naturally lend themselves to success in farming. As I began writing, I saw my father in my son’s experience. The more I write, the more I understand both of them. The more I understand them, the more I understand the history and future of the spectrum. At Thanksgiving this year I made the bold statement to my father, “You know, if people would have known about the spectrum you would have been diagnosed.” He nodded, silently (as usual).
Last week he called, “I read your blog every day. Every day I find something about Tucker that can I relate to. Remember when you said you thought I was on the spectrum? I think I am or I was…or both.”
Now, I am not a Doctor or a Psychologist so I don’t mean to say whether he is or he isn’t, although many of us in the world believe that we are all on the spectrum to some degree. This was exciting to me. Why? Autism is not necessarily a devastating disease or condition. Autism makes people different, not wrong. It simply changes the way people process information.
Consider Temple Grandin – she has autism and changed the way we handle livestock. She developed restraint systems that keep animals calm and prevent them from getting hurt. I once read that she actually entered the chutes and ran herself through the systems in order to see what an animal would see. She was able to translate that knowledge into what would calm her; therefore, what would calm the animal.
My primary goals for my son are to make sure he has a full understanding of what autism is, what that means for him, and how to advocate for himself. What if 50 years ago people would have understood autism as we do now?
My dad may have realized that part of autism is having a hyper-focus on something. He never stops working, thinking, or talking about farming – he would have known that he was okay.
He may have realized that part of autism is having amazing attention to detail. He knows everything and anything about his farm – he would have known that he was okay.
He may have realized that part of autism is experiencing sensory overload. He hates being in environments where there is too much conflicting noise – he would have known that he was okay.
He may have realized that part of having autism is having a significant speech delay. He didn’t talk much before Kindergarten – he would have known that he was okay.
He may have realized that part of having autism is treasuring alone time. He thrives in his lonely combine, tractors, and parts runs – he would have known that he was okay.
He may have realized that part of having autism is a significant strength in visual knowledge. He is always putting things together, imaging what things look like; always describing things in visual terms – he would have known he was okay.
He may have realized that part of having autism is the inability to express and/or recognize feelings. I can’t remember the last time he said, “I Love You.” Trust me, I know he loves me by his actions – and I hope he knows that I know. It’s okay, dad. Really, I get it now. (I also recognize some of this is generational…)
All of those things are true about my father – and so much more. He’s not so much different than my Tucker or so many others on the spectrum. I don’t think any of those are negative traits – in fact, I would say they are some of the best traits on earth.
He is a successful farmer and maybe it’s due to spectrum-like tendencies. How many farmers do you know that like to retreat to the shop, to spend time with their animals, to be precise, and take immense pride in their work? Maybe autism is the very nature of what it means to be a farmer.
During the summer I often sit on my front porch at look at the lush Iowa landscape – blue skies and green fields as far as the eye can see. In these moments I feel so connected to the earth. The land that bears fruit is such an important part of my past. As I look to my right and hear the basketball on the concrete driveway I contemplate the future. There he is. My son, the grandson of two farmers, the great-grandson of four farmers. He has autism and autism or not…he is also some of the best stuff on earth.