6 Aug

The Autism Father – does he have a central or peripheral role?

By Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, Ph.D.

It has impressed me whenever I see photos of conferences and meetings attended by Filipino families of children with autism in Facebook and other media, that the gatherings are consistently predominated by women, presumably mostly mothers. Where are the fathers?

As well, when searching the literature on parenting of children with autism, the data collected by the researchers, for the most part, come from and are about mothers. This imbalance in knowledge and reporting obtained from mothers versus fathers has been said to be dramatic.

Typically, the gender breakdown of responses from parent participants in research studies has been 80% mothers and 20% (or less) fathers.Yet, it is established data that most persons with autism are male; the gender ratio is 4:1 favoring men. What then, could be reasons why fathers are under-represented in autism activities?

In literature from the U.S., these are some suggested explanations:

– Fathers are less often invited to participate in research activities,

– They are less inclined to participate in autism related non-research activities.

– They are less available.

– Within the family, the mother is regarded as the primary care-giver.

– The researchers may be less attentive to the experiences of fathers.

Turning to obtained research knowledge, these are some nuggets I gleaned from the limited literature on this topic.

– Fathers of children with autism experience the commonality of being a father, just like fathers of typically developing (non-autistic) children.

– Nevertheless, there is a realization of modified expectations, for example, in accomplishing athletic activities that a typically developing child would be able to do.

– With that could come “pangs of jealousy” when seeing fathers whose non-disabled children are able to participate more fully in activities.

– These fathers often realize and acknowledge that more is demanded of them. Days are more intense and often exhausting. Since the child needs more help in day to day routines and they have to engage and accompany their child in extraordinary things like supplemental therapies – speech, occupational, behavioral.

– Finally, I am struck by findings that fathers often feel less confident in meeting the demands and challenges of their child’s disabilities. Could this simply be due to lack of practice?

Because most of the research, scant as it is, has focused on the present day activities of fathers and their children, there is hardly any attention on the father’s role in preparing for and managing the child’s future, especially their financial and residential future. Yet, here again, is an irony since the financial status of the family is usually and typically, in the hands of the father.

The truth is, fathers in autism families, just as in non-affected families, have a central role in the lives of their children. The particular features of how their involvement unfolds are surely influenced by the challenges of autism. Since fathers have been heard from only peripherally, little is known about their experiences and their day-to-day adaptations. Quoting McGrath and Chesler (2004) in their study of parents of children with health problems, “the mother cries to someone, the father cries alone”.

It is vitally important to consider and focus on the unique and important role of fathers in the lives of their children with autism. The information above are anecdotal reports from US fathers. We yet have to know how those observations and suggestions are experienced by Filipino families.

We need to hear from and about Filipino fathers of sons and daughters with autism. The knowledge would be fascinating, instructive, and essential to the children’s development and future welfare to adulthood.

Fathers, I would appreciate hearing about your experiences and your opinions on this matter, mothers too. You can send a reply to this posting or to my email address: liriocovey.

Reference: Cheuk, S & Lashewicz (2015). How are they doing? Listening as fathers of children with autism spectrum disordr compare themselves to fathers of children who are typically developing. Autism: 1-10.

3 Responses to “FATHERS AND AUTISM”

  1. Lirio Covey 6 August 2015 at 03:54 #

    Correction on my email address: liriocovey@gmail.com

  2. Fiona Malca 8 August 2015 at 14:02 #


    Yes, indeed we need to hear more from fathers and fathers could to be a bit more involved in issues pertaining to their children with special needs, as equal partners with their wives which, in my opinion, gives the child a proportionately better chance of success.

    With obtained research knowledge based on limited literature on the topic, mothers also experience the commonality of being a mother, just like mothers of typically developing children. In mothers too there is a realisation of modified expectations and the mother, more than the father, is shown on a daily basis comparisons between their childs accomplishments versus those that a typically developing child will be able to do. In view of that, the “pangs of jealousy” (or pangs of a heart breaking in two) are even more apparent in mothers who have to watch their children on a daily basis in a very “competitive-my-baby-is-headed-for Harvard/Oxford” world. Mothers, even more so, realise and acknowledge that more is demanded of them, because it is!. It is more often the mothers that accompany the child to all their activities and therapies because, as the article states, the mothers are seen as the primary caregivers.

    In my 22 years dealing with this issue, fathers are often not as involved, not due to lack of practice, but due to a parents inherent need to want to say that everything is ok and not wanting to accept that their child has an issue that is not about to go away over the passage of time. When a mother’s instincts are setting off warning bells, a fathers instincts are telling him that, as the man of the household he is there to make sure everything is right. But, in the case of the child with these issues, it’s not right and he can’t fix it. Perhaps the father’s concentration, once he realises he has a child that perhaps will never be able to support him or herself,is to focus on ways and means to save enough funds to cover that child’s future in any way that he can.

    The demands on a family of a child with learning difficulties is so extreme that there needs to be a division of labour when it comes to how best to care for the child and perhaps the finance is more in the father’s realm and the caregiving is more in the mothers realm but it is not possible for both parents to put 100 per cent into doing both.

    The bottom line is, as long as both parents are playing a major part in their childs future, he/she stands a much better chance.

    • Lirio Covey 17 August 2015 at 17:00 #

      Fiona, thanks for your very wise words. You have clearly given immeasurable thinking, loving, and action time on this issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: