When I found out I was going to be a father I was beyond excited. My wife and I had been trying to conceive for years before she got pregnant. So, when she told me I was going to be a father I wanted to shout it to the rooftops! I made sure to call my wife every day at work to make sure she ate lunch. I’m sure I annoyed the heck out of her.

We later found out that we were having a boy, and started to plan everything. We started to paint the baby room with blues and silvers and put the crib together.

I started to think about the years down the road joining little league, scouts, soccer, pee wee football, hockey, and racing go-karts.

I wanted my son to be able to do whatever he wanted to. I didn’t want to hold him back from any of his dreams.

When Parker was born you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Not only was he adorable, but he had awesome hair! As he got older I noticed he wasn’t progressing in certain areas as well as his cousin who is six months older. Mostly in the area of speech. The doctors told us “He’s a boy, and boys talk later,” but his cousin is a boy. I was told that we should put him in daycare, so he could learn to talk from other kids. I was told it was just a speech delay. I wanted to believe it all. I put him in speech therapy thinking he would come out talking in 6-8 weeks.

Boy, was I wrong.

When he didn’t start progressing in speech therapy I started blaming myself, and worse—blamed my wife.

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It’s OUR fault he doesn’t speak, because we didn’t put him in daycare. Even though we didn’t have the means to afford daycare.

It’s MY fault he doesn’t speak, because maybe I didn’t sing to him enough or sang the wrong songs.

It’s MY fault he doesn’t speak, because maybe I didn’t read to him enough.

It’s MY fault he has nonverbal autism.

When I realized he had autism, I was crushed. I didn’t even realize what autism was. I didn’t know anything about it. After some research, I became sad and depressed. Sad that my son may never play sports, drive a car, get a job, or get married.

But, the thing that hurt me most was realizing that he may never say “Dada” or “I love you.”

Even after finding out that nothing I did could’ve affected his autism, I still continued to blame myself. It took a long time for me not to blame myself, my wife, or anyone else for his autism. I wanted to know why he had autism. I wanted to blame someone, and that someone was me. I’m learning to cope with my self-blame as time goes on, but a little piece of it will always be there.

I’m learning to shift my blame to hope and happiness for Parker.

My wife, being the amazing woman she is, kept researching autism. She came across a Facebook page that shared a story about a boy with nonverbal autism, Cooper. She kept telling me stories about Cooper, his speech device, and all the other kids on Finding Cooper’s Voice and Coop’s Troop. Kids that were very similar to Parker. Medications that were working for them, and that we should talk to our son’s doctor about it.

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Eventually, I started to follow Finding Cooper’s Voice as well. I watched and read about other people’s stories. The way the kids progressed gave us hope. Hope that Parker may play sports. Hope that he may say “Dada.”

Hope.

I am now part of the Coop’s Troop Dads page where I can share my challenges, hopes, and wins with other dads that truly understand.

I may never hear “I love you,” but I know he loves me. I continue to have hope that I will hear those three words one day.

Originally published on Finding Cooper’s Voice.

Ryan LeFevers

Ryan is a father to two autistic boys, Parker (5) and Dustin (2). He is coming up on 14 years of marriage to his beautiful wife, and they have been together for a total of 20 years. He enjoys playing guitar for his boys, and recently decided to share their autism journey on Facebook and Instagram to provide hope to fathers of autistic children, and to be an advocate for his sons.