For The Love Of David
By: Dana Knowles
It was the evening before the twins were born, My wife Jody was in hospital resting before her scheduled surgery the following morning and as I laid in my empty bed at home, I remember writing and posting the following words on Facebook:
"Well folks I'm getting ready to go to bed but tomorrow I will be a FATHER! It is a really weird feeling going to sleep not fully being a father and knowing that tomorrow I will be! Anyway pray for Jody and me tomorrow and for the arrival of David and Daniel, that all will go well. We love you all and thank you for all that you have done thus far!!!!!!!!!!!!!".
Little did I know at that time, the whirlwind of a journey that I was about to embark on….the happy times and the challenges that awaited me.
Fatherhood is something I had dreamed about and looked forward to for quite some time in my life; whatever the catalyst may have been, truth be told it was something even though I eagerly anticipated as I grew older, I also realized the great responsibility that came with it. When searching for a wife to spend my forever with, I was conscientious enough to look for a partner I considered kind and loving, and one who possessed "motherly" qualities. After all, not only did I want my children to have the best father ever, I also desired an awesome mother for them as well. Once I found Jody Knowles, the love of my life and we married, we began building a good foundation together. For the next ten years, we invested every possible moment and adventure bonding as a couple, before we began a family. This was yet another dream I felt strongly about.
I was adamant about having this alone time with my wife for a number of reasons, one of which you might find a bit humorous. Jody's mother is a twin, ‘my’ mother.....you guessed it, is also a twin and since neither of them had twins (which is the norm), the likelihood of us having twins was a strong possibility. This would automatically and instantaneously, double the size of our family and place a demand on our time and our attention from each other, to all of “Us”.
Only those who have twins would understand why the first six months of fatherhood was somewhat of a blur! The generous assistance of the grandmothers, (one of them actually moved in) and the great support from friends, made it possible for us to navigate through those times.
It wasn't until the boys received their six-month vaccinations that we noticed a distinct difference in David's developmental milestones vs Daniel's. In fact, we began to see a regression in David's behavior, and knew right away that something was different. God does all things well; it was because we had twins that we were able to compare their differences and surmise that there appeared to be an issue with David.
We never fully understood the magnitude of the astronomical costs involved in accurately diagnosing a child until we were making preparation to take David to a clinic in the U.S.A. At the clinic, I remember watching the doctor watch David and thinking, whatever this doctor is going to tell us will inevitably forever change the course of our lives.
The doctor said many things to us after her observation that day but the one experience that remains with me until now, are her words of counsel… “never treat him any different than you treat any of your other children”. My immediate thought was that this would be an impossible task to accomplish. Easier said than done! How can I as a father, treat a child on the Spectrum for Autism, the same as a "normal" child? Thankfully, now many years since, it is this advice that has helped to form my relationship with David, that is different from every other relationship he has in his life.
To be on the Spectrum of Autism, contrary to popular belief, does not mean that a child is "dumb" or has a difficulty learning. In fact, autistic children are extremely and naturally intelligent, with the exception that they analyze, process and learn information in a different way than you or I might.
This became evident to me when Jody and I decided to start the boys with the "Your Baby Can Read" series of videos. As young as the boys were, David quickly learned all of the videos and was able to repeat the dialogue almost verbatim. He also did the same with other entertaining videos we got for them.
To reinforce this fact, a short while later a real lightbulb turned on for me when I put in a video David had not seen in years; Even though he had seen very little of the video, the minute it began playing, he was able to sound out in sync with the video… verbatim. Over time with the help of a few sessions of therapy, David began speaking more clearly and in more complete sentences than he had before.
One of David's most admirable attributes is his loving heart. He is a daily reminder of what God's love is truly all about. David's love is unconditional, not self-seeking, but kind, gentle (at times 😊) and keeps no record of wrong, but is very forgiving. I look forward to coming home from a hard day at work knowing that he is the first child at the door to greet me with a hug and kiss and announces to his brothers “Daddy's home....Daniel, Dillon look Daddy's home”!!!!
David has had a few obstacles to deal with other than the obvious diagnosis of being on the Spectrum; he was also diagnosed by the doctors at Bascum Palmer Optical Center, as having Nystagmus and Achromatopsia. The synopsis of these two disorders is that David's cones in his eyes were never properly developed, therefore, he has poor focal vision but better peripheral vision. He has difficulty seeing in daylight and according to them, he is color blind. Receiving this diagnosis was a near crushing blow, but I was resolute to remain a strong anchor and hopeful not just as a father, but as the leader of my family and as the strong arms of support for Jody.
In spite of everything, throughout the years we have had many moments of light humor with David. It is almost funny how many cases of shades and glasses we have gone through, in an effort to try to alleviate the discomfort we suppose David feels during the daytime. He however seems to take a delight in how quickly and creatively he can disassemble the shades. Jody and I eventually concluded that after many negotiations with David on the proper use for them, it would be an exercise in futility and too costly to keep his entertainment supplied.
One would suppose that such a child couldn’t possibly teach a parent anything, but I bear witness that as we have taught David his first words and his first steps, he too has taught us so much. I have watched as David adapted his movements and behaviors, whether it was getting a little closer to the television to see his favorite characters, tilting his head to the side, squinting his eyes or blinking innumerable times per minute, he did all in an effort to see more clearly. Almost instinctively, he has learned to do what is necessary to live ‘his life’ without complaint but with almost apparent ease.
David has been given the gift of music; almost naturally as a child he would dance to songs in a choreographed manner. His major performances usually always came when the music played while the credits rolled at the end of his favorite videos. To our amazement, there were times when he would be in another room, but when the credits music was about to begin, David would run from wherever he was and position himself in front of the television, just in time to begin his presentation. Occasionally he would pull one of his adoring grandmothers into the dance but he was always in front and made it a point to look back to ensure that she was doing the correct steps and would give direction and correction where necessary.
Being a singer myself, it was no further surprise that David seemed to have come into the world with a song in his heart. At an incredibly early age he began humming tunes, and as young as 3 years old would sing all the way home when picked up from nursery. The uniqueness of David’s abilities is that without being taught, he can sing a second part if someone else is singing the melody of a song. David’s maternal grandmother is also a singer, and she is always delighted to have sing-a-longs with him when they visit. As with the dancing, David usually indicates to her, when he wishes her to join him in the chorus of a song and she happily obliges.
He is usually the featured soloist at his school during their Christmas concert. Our family feels great pride and joy as we watch and listen to our David fearlessly sing his songs, as did the David of the Psalms.
He has not skipped a beat when it comes to enjoying the things that life brings him. Some of his favorite moments are spent with his paternal grandmother after she picks him up from school. Fun times begin with him learning new words, and being able to repeat his home address daily. Of course, this is all accomplished via a Wendy’s treat or ice cream from Dairy Queen. The highlight of David’s day could be a bag of nuggets and fries, a few hours on the beach and swimming like a trained swimmer, followed by vanilla ice cream on the way home.
David enjoys spending alone time with his mother and must lay or sit right next to her while he laughs and plays on his tablet or on her cell phone, which he uses with accuracy and ease, as he finds his favorite songs and videos. Jody and David share sweet morning moments when she gets up to prepare for the day and checks in on him and his brothers. David is a light sleeper so as she opens the door he sits right up and makes his requests for ‘milk’,… “go back to sleep David,” is usually his mother’s response, which he then responds to by laughing and throwing himself back in the bed… she still makes him his favorite chocolate milk and when she opens the bedroom door to take it to him, she can see his hand outstretched in the air, awaiting his cup of delight.
The joy that my beloved (Son) David gets from what would be considered the simple pleasures of life, is a daily reminder to me that one of the greatest ‘keys’ to contentment in life, is having an attitude of gratitude.