Understanding, Acceptance and Compassion: A Journey through Autism from a Father’s Perspective.

TAP is committed to the support and well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and their families. Together our network of partners and professionals creates a family structure built on a foundation of diverse caregivers, advocates, providers and dedicated parents.

José Ovalle, Parent Liaison for TAP, was working as a computer network manager for an audio visual company when autism became a significant part of his life. José is the father of 23-year-old identical twins who were diagnosed with high-functioning autism in 2000. At the time of diagnosis for David and Carlos, José s then 10-year-old boys, many questions had been left unanswered. For years José and his wife Mattie were left wondering what was different with their sons. “I was completely in denial that they had something as serious as autism” he said. After years of phone calls from teachers because of their behavioral challenges in school and the speculation of intellectual disabilities, José and his wife were able assess the needs of their sons as their knowledge of autism increased. “I said okay they have it, now let’s deal with it.” José credits the use of websites, information and joining support groups as his means of coping and later becoming an advocate.

“I accept the fact that they have a disability,” said José who realized how much easier life became once his twin boys got older. Jose stresses the kinds of values they instilled in their sons which would allow them to be as independent as possible. David and Carlos are currently enrolled in college, receive their own income and know how to budget between necessary and leisure expenses. Dialogue and communication Jose says is a moral deeply valued in their home, “They have to agree to disagree, but they must respect each other.” He always encourages his sons to communicate with others and let them know who they are as opposed to assuming everyone around them is aware of their unique abilities.

José’s family, including his wife and oldest son Luis, 28, have committed their cause to advocacy and awareness of autism and other developmental disabilities. José’s wife Mattie works at UIC Clinics along with their son Luis. Luis even went the extra mile affirming “He would never date someone who does not understand that his brothers have autism” said José.

José proudly admits through this experience, all of his sons taught him individuality, how to be humble and how to speak from the heart.
To find out more about José and his family please email him at jovalle@thehopeinstitute or log on to theautismprogram.org

For James Harlan, acceptance was the hardest thing to gather. James is President of The Answer Inc, an organization dedicated to providing support, resources, education, recreation and advocacy for families impacted by Autism & Developmental Differences. The Answer Inc. is one of TAP’s newest partners.

He admits “I sat up many nights crying” and he even tried to make a deal with God “Cure my son and let me die so he can have a decent life.” Jason was almost three when he was diagnosed in what his father describes as a very clumsy diagnosis. Jason had been misdiagnosed more than once before doctors finally concluded he had autism. The doctors also prescribed that James and his wife try to make their son’s life as comfortable as possible because according to their discovery, he would never be able to walk or function like other typically developing children.

Fortunately James’ wife, Debra Vines, was not accepting of what the doctors told them Jason could not do. She quit her job and devoted herself to the well-being of her son. Meanwhile Mr. Harlan continued to work and support his family.

James and his wife separated themselves from family and friends because whenever Jason was around there were always those uncomfortable questions. Some would often say ‘“He’s such a cute kid, too bad he’s…”’ according to what James describes as the kind of negative opinions about his son that offended him most. James and his wife had no place to turn for support or understanding. Jason, now 26, was born at a time in history when there were many questions about autism. Today James says autism is a buzzword.

“It kind of makes you feel as if you’re on an island alone” said James who found it difficult to discover acceptance for his son in an awareness-deficient society. James admits his biggest mistake was creating a barricade between his family and the rest of the world because “You have to get your kid out and don’t be embarrassed.” He realized the importance of allowing Jason to have some sort of conformity to how the world and the people in it function. When everyone knows your child “That’s a form of support” he said.

With these morals in mind James was eager to support his wife when she approached him with the idea of opening The Answer Inc., where Debra is Founder and Executive Director. He took out a loan to get his wife started and in 2007 The Answer Inc. opened its doors as a resource and support agency in the community. James facilitates a support group for fathers; Debra facilitates a group for mothers of children with ASD among other services The Answer Inc. provides.

Realizing that acceptance is the only way to persevere through life-changing circumstances, James proudly admits his son Jason is walking, talking, running and even learning how to cook despite what doctors affirmed he could not do 26 years ago. “Once you accept your situation, it’s easy” said James.

Moving forward he realized his son taught him how to love unconditionally, so much that he desires to be more like Jason. “I’m so grateful to him for that,” he said. “If Jason wants to give me a kiss, he’ll reach over and give me a kiss.”

To find out more about The Answer Inc. and to contact James Harlan, please visit theanswerinc.org

Bonita Holmes- Network Outreach Coordinator The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP)

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