My Personal Lesson in Patience

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism Awareness Month. Before you scroll past because you’re unsure how this fits into your life, I want to encourage you to read my personal story with autism, because it has taught me more about PATIENCE than I ever could have imagined.

For this week and throughout April, PATIENCE is the focus of our mindset training with our members. It wasn’t the plan to line up autism and PATIENCE but now that we’re here, I hope I can help teach you patience through my story. When it comes to dealing with people on the spectrum, patience and understanding are hands-down, the best approaches I believe you can take.

The Autism Society recognizes that the prevalence of autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 in 2020. It is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, and MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff predicts half of the children born in 2025 will be autistic.

I fully believe that this is the path our children are heading if we’re not way closer to being there already. Since sharing my story about my son several years ago, I’ve come into contact with a lot of great families with kids on the spectrum and I believe it’s much more prevalent than anyone knows.

What we have to remember when speaking about children on the spectrum is that it’s a spectrum. Not all kids are struggling with the same things. In my son alone I’ve seen him go from very much on the spectrum to almost off of it. A lot of people who have recently met Dylan will even be surprised to hear this because they know Dylan as such an outgoing and friendly 7-year-old.

It hasn’t always been this smooth sailing for Dylan, and there were some very tough times in his toddler years. It has been work to help get him to where he is today. He’s had nutritional help and prescribed supplementation from my step-father-in-law who is a naturopathic doctor, which has changed his blood tests in almost miraculous proportions. He’s also had incredible teachers at Eisenhower Elementary, Limestone Creek Elementary, Els Center For Excellence, and private teachers and coaches who all had different teaching methods but shared one common trait, an incredible amount of PATIENCE. Currently, my wife Shannon homeschools Dylan and exhibits a ton of patience with him each day.

My biggest lesson in patience came as I was learning to control my reactions to my son’s actions.

One of Dylan’s biggest struggles has been regulating his emotions. Sometimes in our FitKids class we’ll play a game and he’ll get upset and explode in front of everyone. This is what use to happen with Dylan every day, over nothing.

There have been so many times when I wanted to get emotional in the moment. There were instances where he screamed in my wife and I’s faces and we screamed back even louder. When this happened, we lost our patience and lost sight of our long-term goals with Dylan.

I wrote this sentence in my journal in September of 2017 when Dylan was almost 4 years old, “It’s really tough though when you pour all of your love and patience you feel like you physically have towards someone and they continue to scream in your face, often over 1000 times a day.”

It took time...but over that time our patience grew. We realized that if Dylan was ever going to learn proper emotional regulation, it was going to come from us modeling that very thing.

Instead of trying to “put our son in his place” so to speak, we learned we had to go to the place first that we wanted him to follow. If we wanted him to have patience and peace, we had to show him patience and peace, even in the middle of one of his storms. It truly felt like the opposite of what we wanted to do in the moment, but it was what we needed to do for Dylan.

I remember one time when Dylan was 3, we had just gotten back home to Jupiter after a vacation to Orlando and Chicago to see family. Dylan was in bed screaming at the top of his lungs. One part of me was mad and wondered how this kid could be so upset after we had just given him a great vacation. The other part of me, the patient part, tried to remind myself of how much the changing of environments must have strained Dylan’s emotions and how he was probably running on empty.

I was tired too, but instead of getting angry, I gently grabbed Dylan’s hands and placed them over his heart. In a matter of seconds, he went from purple-faced, eyes rolled back into his head, screaming, to catching his breath and calmly saying “words, words”. He comes out of these screaming fits like a soldier suffering from PTSD. It’s like he’s not even there with me and I have to bring him back to the present with my calming voice and touch. It’s really hard to watch your child have this almost out-of-body experience.

The hand over our heart had become our signal we shared to remind ourselves of patience and peace. It let Dylan know that I understood his emotions, and I’d like for him to use his words instead of screaming. Whenever I motioned my fist over my heart and softly tapped my chest a few times and said “words”, he would repeat “words” to me and calm his demeanor.

As much as the hand signal helped Dylan, it was even more powerful for me. It reminded me to create space between the abrupt reaction I wanted to do, and the calmer, more thought-out reaction I knew I should do.

There was no one-moment or seminal experience that progressed Dylan along the spectrum. It’s been a slow, patient grind, where almost every single word I’ve said to him in 7 years and every reaction I’ve formulated is calculated for his growth.

Having Dylan as my son has changed my life. It’s changed who I am a business owner, coach, father, brother, son, husband, and friend. God knew what he was doing when he let us unsuccessfully attempt pregnancy for over a year and a half. He knew what he was doing when he blessed us with Dylan and all his perfect imperfections.

There’s a scripture from The Bible that talks about patience and how it’s all you need to be complete. “4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-21.

And it’s through that scripture I know Dylan was given to me for a purpose, and I to Dylan. So that we could each bring out the patience in each other and let patience have it’s perfect work.

I want to encourage you today to do two things.

First, look for the “tough” things in your life that may have been gifted to you to help you be a more patient person. What is something you previously thought was an obstacle, but is actually an opportunity to grow in patience?

Second, when you feel yourself growing impatient, what is a move you can do to remind yourself to be patient? It can be as simple as placing your hand on your heart, or it could be words that you say to yourself, possibly scripture. Whatever it is, allow it to create some space so you can cultivate patience.

Live Life to the Fittest, with patience,
-Coach Tony