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From the Windy City to the City of Brotherly Love: A Father’s Journey for Community

8 fathers standing in a row smiling at camera

April 29, 2024

Written by: Sarah Greer

Distance was not an object for Craig Battleman when deciding to attend the first Autism Fathers Conference in Philadelphia. Craig traveled from Chicago to Philadelphia to finally meet in person all the fathers he had been in community with over the years. Craig is a part of the support group for fathers of autistic people, sponsored by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and co-facilitated by Dr. Robert Naseef and Dr. Michael Hannon. The support group is now in its fourth year. The group was created in response to the need for more resources for fathers of autistic people, and they meet virtually every month.

The Center for Autism Research at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) partnered with the Autism Fathers Support Group to make the conference a reality. This conference allowed caregivers of autistic children to share experiences, gain invaluable insights, and forge connections with experts and fellow caregivers in a supportive environment. Sarah Greer from the Autism Institute sat down with Craig Battleman to discuss his experience with both the Autism Fathers Support Group and the Autism Fathers Conference.

Sarah Greer: What motivated you to join the autism fathers support group initially, and how has your experience been since joining?

Craig Battleman: I joined the group a few months after I found out about its existence. I started during the heart of the pandemic. One of my coworkers is a leading advocate for neurodiversity and she runs a well-established Slack channel at IBM. She went to an autism-related conference three or so years ago in the Philadelphia area and shared her notes with the Slack channel. Her notes included a reference to the Drexel Father's group. The experience is amazing. I am glad I joined. I have the dates marked on my calendar and do everything possible to join the monthly sessions. The monthly sessions are a place where I go knowing that my experiences with autism are not unique to myself or my family.

Sarah: Can you share a significant moment or insight you've gained from participating in the support group over the years?

Craig: I would not say I have had any significant moments, but I have had many, many smaller moments that add up significantly. I actually take notes during the Zoom calls. Here are some of my more memorable notes which either came from other Fathers on the call and are lessons I try to remember with my son or are some ad hoc thoughts I scribbled during the monthly session after one of the other Fathers shared his views:

  • How much advocating should I do for my son, how do I teach him to advocate for himself when I am no longer here, how much failure do I need to have him experience so he can learn without being overwhelmed.
  • Milestones come, just later and with a lot more effort, but when they come, they are that much more appreciated.
  • Everyone in the group nods their head up and down when you have a gripe/concern/issue because they all have been there too.
  • Celebrate the little wins; they add up to big wins.
  • Sometimes, the best I can do just has to be OK.
  • Keep a log of things that went well, like a periodic diary. When you have a tough day, read the diary. I do this with funny stories; I need to add a few more from this year.
  • Behavior is an attempt to communicate; us understanding what they are trying to communicate is a different story.

Sarah: What advice would you give to other fathers with a child with autism?

Craig: The challenge is that my advice would fill a book since Max is 22 years old. Really, the only advice that is appropriate to give is to find your people who are going through similar experiences so that when you need to cry/rant/rave/vent, they understand. For me, my people is the Drexel Father's group. I wish it were around twenty years ago.

Sarah: Can you describe the importance of community and connection with other fathers who share similar experiences in raising an autistic child?

Craig: The Fathers are a community, and the connection is autism. Because society is still generally not prepared to provide support in a repeatable, effective, operational manner, each family has to go through the journey uniquely. And that takes a toll emotionally, financially, socially, and medically. Everyone needs a group that understands the trials and tribulations of the journey, is willing to listen, and does not jump up and down with solutions that might not be relevant.

Sarah: What made you travel from Chicago to Philadelphia to attend the Autism Fathers Conference?

Craig: Two reasons. One, I wanted to meet Matt, Peter, Robert, Michael, Arnel, Shawn, and Gil, and all of the other Fathers in person. I also believe that I have a responsibility to the group. My wife and I have a son that is finishing his junior year in college, he is slowly making friends, he has travelled the world, drives a car. By all measures, a huge success. I understand that these accomplishments are not a 100% predictor of the future, but they are a great base. If you had approached me twenty years ago when we started the journey, I would never have believed that any of this was possible. The Fathers who have young children now do not have an easy journey ahead of them. Sometimes knowing that other people have succeeded can provide hope.

Sarah: How did you feel about meeting the other fathers in person for the first time?

Craig: Hugs all around. I hope we have the conference again.

When asked about his future involvement with the Autism Fathers Support Group, Craig expressed hope that the group would continue to grow and that the conference happen every year. If you or someone you know would like to join the Autism Fathers Group, please contact