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Parents of a child on the autism spectrum understand the importance and difficulty of keeping their child engaged with the world around them. Kurt Janicki, the father of an autistic child, was struggling with his son’s tendency to disconnect and drift away from the present moment. Mr. Janicki was looking for ways to get his son to interact with his surroundings and he couldn’t have imagined an answer to his dreams would come in the sport of wrestling. The unexpected life-changing event took place when his son, Erik Janicki, was watching the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament. It was right in that moment that he realized he wanted to participate in his high school’s wrestling program. Ever since, Erik has been connected to the world thanks to his passionate interest in the sport.
“If you let him, his world would close in on him. If you don’t keep him connected to the world around him, he would close in on himself in a heartbeat, and he would continue to do that.”, said Mr. Janicki. The ease in which Erik retreats back into his shell is what has made his discovery of wrestling that much more significant. He’s now known to be “Coach Erik” within his teammates and his involvement in the sport has given him an opportunity to better himself. As one of the coaches, Erik’s responsibilities include helping the head coach run practices and delivering motivational speeches to the team before their scheduled meets.
Erik’s father participated in the same high school’s wrestling program back in the 1980’s and he was able to reach the Middlesex County Wrestling Tournament. “The thing about wrestling – you know how personal and emotional it can be – and Erik watches the journey that each one of these young men takes. He connects with them, and he’s emotionally invested in it”, explained Kurt Janicki. He was pleased, even shocked, by the offer of South River head coach Bobby Young to integrate Erik into the team by making him a coach. He thought his son was going to be on the sidelines and was gratifyingly surprised to see he truly was going to form an integral part of the experience.
Erik’s parents look forward to a future where he can continue to thrive and grow as a person. His involvement and excitement as one of the wrestling coaches have installed a positive outlook into his transition to adulthood. They hope to continue to bring down the barrier that sometimes blocks their son from interacting independently with the world but remain optimistic. Mr. Janicki has some inspiring words of advice to other parents with children on the autism spectrum. He says, “They are wonderful gifts in your life. Don’t hide them from the world. Take time to let them teach you about yourself and about them.”
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By Edgar Catasus
It’s crucial for any child to have a strong mother and father figure in their life. It helps them develop and acquire healthy self-esteem as well as a positive outlook on their identity. However, in many families the father isn’t as present as the mother when it comes to caregiving which in turn disrupts the child’s well-being and sense of stability. According to a recent study, it’s even more imperative for a child with autism to be able to depend on a supportive father figure who is engaged and invested in his role.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that when dads participate in activities with kids on autism spectrum, the child sees a noticeable improvement in their overall development and the mother is less apt to suffer from depression. Activities might include the father reading a story, playing with toys, calming the child down when they are upset, or taking them to the doctor when they feel sick. Since mothers demonstrate higher levels of stress when they take care of a child with autism, the father’s involvement becomes of special importance to the well-being of both parents.
“One of the key criteria of autism is difficulty with communication, which may explain why these children’s mothers are especially susceptible to stress and depression,” explains one of the main conductors of the study Daniel J. Laxman. Since children with autism struggle with communication, it’s essential for the father to spend time every day reading or singing songs to his child in order for the child to improve his or her vocabulary and grasp on verbal communication.
The study analyzed the development of the child at nine months, two years old, and four years old in order to get a clear picture of the benefits of a firm paternal role. The data has been quite groundbreaking since many previous researchers focused on the importance of the mother role and reduced the significance of the father. This might be due to society’s expectations of dads not playing as much of a central part in the upbringing of a child. The study dismisses such preconceived cultural norms and indicates that both parents are integral to the structure of a family.
“It’s very important that men fully understand the reasons why their support and active engagement in parenting is so critical for the family’s functioning and for the child,” states Brent A. McBride, director of the Child Development Laboratory at Illinois. However, it’s also necessary for the parents to come to an agreement over the parenting methods they will inflict on the child to not create an even more stressful environment. A mother and a father will have different perspectives and points of view when it comes to discipline but the child needs to feel a sense of harmony within the family.
For additional information, please visit: PsychCentral.
By Edgar Catasus
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