When a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the news can offer greater clarity and resources. For Australian parents Chris and Jessica Offer, their daughter's diagnosis led to another important discovery.
"My husband is a 33-year-old male. He’s also autistic," Jessica wrote on her blog, Girl Tribe, last week. In the post, the mom explains how Chris came to be diagnosed as a parent with autism after learning that they were parents of a child with autism.
"We were together seven years before we realized he had autism," she wrote. "It wasn’t until after my eldest daughter was diagnosed after a few years of back and forth deliberation on my behalf that we finally got her assessed, and diagnosed – and THEN it occurred to us that Cj was too."
The Offers have four daughters, two of whom are autistic. Jessica explained in her blog post that she knew her oldest daughter was not "neurotypical" from about age 4 due to her strict adherence to routines, sensory issues and frequent screaming meltdowns.
When she talked to her husband about these "quirks," however, he said the little girl's behavior seemed normal to him.
"He saw no issue with the way she behaved because he could see why," Jessica wrote. "He could understand her triggers because they triggered him, too. And he had many of the exact same struggles when he was young that she was experiencing now."
After a particularly difficult year, Jessica decided to have a pediatrician assess her oldest daughter's behavior. The diagnosis was clear within an hour: autism.
While the mom felt a sense of "relief and direction" after hearing her daughter's diagnosis, she said her husband was in "shock" and "disbelief." A few days later, Jessica and Chris went through the doctor's diagnostic criteria for autism."And it was here that we discovered that so many of her quirks were the same as his," she wrote.
"Then all the pieces began to fall into place," she continued. "The reasons behind his social overload and only ever wanting to go out one weekend day now both made sense. Along with his exhaustion from talking to people. Even down to the specific way he liked to organize the pantry ... We chuckled over just how many things were there that we had automatically adapted to without even noticing."
A few months later, Chris underwent a formal assessment and was diagnosed with autism at the age of 30. "He greeted it with grief, but also relief," Jessica wrote.
Discussing the effect of this new label, Chris told ABC News, "I'm still doing the same things that I'm always doing but I'm doing them differently with more of a conscious mind. The diagnosis gives you a better toolbox to deal with everyday life."
Jessica told the news network that she has always been attracted to her husband's "quirky" nature and the way it complements her personality. In her viral blog post, she reaffirmed her love and support for Chris.
"Autism didn’t change my husband. He’s never not been autistic, and it’s what makes him who he is," she wrote. "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."
The mom added that the couple are now both strong proponents of early diagnosis and intervention when it comes to autism.
"Because when you love someone you love them fully and wholly, and you want to support them to be the best they can be; whoever that is," she concluded. "And you realize that labels don’t define or limit a person’s abilities -- but they can offer a great insight into the individual’s personality, and enable them to be supported to reach their full potential."
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