- Tim Wheaton
In episode 61, I had a life-altering conversation with Rob Gorski, creator of "The Autism Dad". Life-altering is an appropriate and not exaggerated description of our discussion. I, of course, am hopeful it has anywhere close to that effect and meaning for at least some of you.
As I said in my intro: Rob is one of those people that, to me, are deserving of the title "hero". Truly. Rob’s ability to overcome some of the challenges he and his family are faced with is the stuff heroes are made of. Their "normal" day-to-day is extremely unique. And, I’m sure Rob would scoff at me for saying that or maybe politely thank me for it. But, the things Rob does that seem so amazing to me, he would probably just shrug and tell me how it really is just his life. And… that’s what makes it heroic to me.
I truly feel very humbled after speaking with Rob. Hearing these stories about how much his family overcomes daily. How much they have overcome already. It also inspires me to know that I can do so much more, in so many ways. Not just in my own life… but for others, as well.
Rob has three autistic children at home. His wife has Aspergers and is autistic as well. Their 19-year-old son also has childhood disintegrative disorder. This means, though he is 19 years of age, his cognitive level is about at that of a 6 or 5-year old, and it’s regressing.
This conversation with Rob opened the door to possibly the first time I have spoken at any length on the podcast about my daughter’s autism. She does very well and is extremely high-functioning. But, that wasn’t always the case. She definitely had a tough first section of her life, filled with lots of time with therapists in our home and outside of it.
I brought up the story of Carly Fleischmann that I had seen years ago on a 20/20 special. My daughter was young and already into her therapies when the video about Carly came out. At that time, we really had no idea where things would go for our little girl, but it gave me hope, all the same.
As we went back into Rob’s history, he talked about his childhood, born in the late 70’s and raised in Ohio as one of 6 kids. His parents were very religious and worked hard to send all of the kids to Catholic school, locally. As a kid who spent pretty much all of my years in private school, as well, we dug into private education a little.
As our conversation meandered into this topic, Rob shared something from his past that was something else I could truly empathize with: abuse. Let’s just say that the way the adults surrounding him responded to what he told them about what happened from someone involved in the local parish understandably put an indelible mark on Rob regarding the Catholic church and organized religion.
You can’t have a conversation about organized religion (or maybe, the Catholic church?) without touching on tolerance and acceptance, right? Our road led us there next and, I’d say a great deal of our episode really was steeped in that: Tolerance, Acceptance and Love.
Rob told me that he has gotten some flack from people on social media for voicing his opinion on politics and other things. Rather than people seeing the big picture of what our current government is doing that has massive effects on people with autism or other disabilities, some are telling Rob to "stay in his lane" and stick to the autism advocacy. Which, Rob states very succinctly in this episode, very well means that he absolutely has things to say about other things that really do affect his family and those with autism.
"…I want to be standing on the right side of history. I want my kids to know that I was not okay with this. That I spoke up… and I stood up… and I did everything in my power, as one person, to counter this…" Rob said, in regards to everything going on with the current state of hate and lack of acceptance on a grand scale in society right now.
I’d have to say, one of the funnier moments of the episode was when I tried to use an analogy that did not hit its mark with Rob, leading him to tell a personal story of his kids. His story may as well be pulled from an 80’s John Hughes film. I felt bad for the error on my part, and told him how much I loved the story, before clarifying what I had meant originally.
How and when do you have the autism talk with your child who has autism? It’s not an easy conversation. And much like anything else with regards to parents and their children, there is no right or wrong answer. And everyone is different.
With that all said: Rob and his wife’s approach to talking about autism with their kids was mature and logical and just completely sensible.
To say I was inspired by a lot of the things I discussed with Rob is to put it incredibly lightly. And, maybe even, saying that it would be putting it lightly to say that may also be putting it lightly.
You can find all things regarding Rob and his personal work at www.TheAutismDad.com
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