That’s Mark Paterson, an executive in the industrial equipment industry, and father of a boy who is autistic. Mark speaks candidly with our host David Hirsch about some of the difficulties of raising a child with special needs. That’s on this Dad to Dad podcast. To find out about Little City go to www.littlecity.org.
Dad to Dad 75 – Mark Paterson Speaks About the Challenges of Raising a Son With Autism & Little City
Mark Paterson: Tim’s gone to Hogwarts is what we would say. You know what? Tim’s going to boarding school, right? He’s in a house that is purpose built for taking care of him. He’s well taken care of. We know all the caregivers we know as teachers and we’re very plugged in a little city and it was life changing. Or for us as a family.
Tom Couch: That’s Mark Patterson and executive in the industrial equipment industry and father of a boy who’s autistic.
Mark speaks candidly with our host David Hirsch about some of the difficulties of raising a child with special needs. That’s all on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad, podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs. Presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help we’d like to offer help. We’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in on this fascinating conversation between special father Mark Patterson and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Mark Patterson of Arlington Heights, Illinois, who is a father of three and an executive in the industrial equipment industry.
Mark, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Mark Paterson: Good morning.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Leeanne, I’ve been married for 18 years and are the proud parents of three children, Julia eight, Christopher 11 and Timothy 13. Who has autism?
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up?
Tell me something about your family.
Mark Paterson: Sure. I was born in Utica, New York, central New York, upstate and, uh, 1967. So I’m 52 years old. Just turned 52. I’m the oldest of five kids. My father was a, had a, had his own small business. And my mother was a school teacher. Yeah. It was a kind of an idyllic upbringing, three boys and two girls and my family, my siblings.
Upstate New York where, you know, Utica is a fairly small town, but not too small, great school system. My father was an air force. Enlisted guy was an air traffic controller. So he had a background in the military and as I was growing up. My brother and I heard about that a lot. He was telling war stories and certainly experienced the kind of military plan a bit here and there you do lineups and Sergeant Patterson, not, not extreme, not like captain Von Trapp extreme, but, uh, definitely was intrigued with the stories and the travel and the adventure.
And, um, the things that I quickly discovered would offer. Someone like me as a kid, an opportunity to, to go places and see things and start off my life.
David Hirsch: So, so he was in the military for how long.
Mark Paterson: He was in the military for 12 years. He decided to leave to start a family a few years before I was born. So, and you mentioned he was in the air force?
He was in the air force? Yes.
David Hirsch: And did he do any tours?
Mark Paterson: In the air force. Oh, sure. Yeah. He had been stationed in Spain and Japan and uh, really all over the world, uh, Korea during the Korean war. So yeah. Yeah. He had been a lot of places and he went on to be an air traffic control. He was an Airtraq. That was his job in the air force. He was an air traffic controller. Yeah. And
David Hirsch: I’m wondering when you think about your dad, I’m wondering how you five, your relationship with your dad.
Mark Paterson: It was extremely close. Uh, my dad was very, very involved in our life as an example, you know, he, he chose his, all of his career decisions and, uh, how he structured the time in his life was around us as kids to spend as much time with us as possible.
He was always coming up with crazy ideas of where we were go on vacation next, or that we were going to take a, we’re going to drive to Canada for launch. Um, I remember I remember that day or that we were going to raise chickens and an abandoned barn. That was in a way in the back in the, in the woods of our backyard.
And then we didn’t want the chickens anymore and he wasn’t happy with giving the chickens away. So we were going to, the chickens were going to turn into food. Oh, so yeah, so there was, there were a lot, there were a lot of adventures and, uh, you know, maybe I can dig up the eulogy cause my dad. Passed away, unfortunately, a few years ago. And I gave the eulogy and it was really a celebration of this guy life and, and he was really something around, around children and being involved in our lives and teaching us the values and passing on his enthusiasms for. You know, the adventure that is our life. And, um, my father passed away from Alzheimer’s early onset.
Alzheimer’s when he was, uh, you know, 75 years old. And, and I, I, you know, it’s one of those, uh, relationships where I, I still hear his voice and I, and I know how, from my relationship with my dad, how he would approach what we’ve had to go, what I’ve had to go through, you know, in life, So I have that. I have that, that big building block to stand up forever.
David Hirsch: So that’s great. How well, it sounds like he was amazing role model. That’s what I hear you saying. And that, um, if I were to sort of paraphrase what you’ve said or capsulize, what you’ve said. Strong family values.
Mark Paterson: Absolutely absolutely. And for my mother too, my mother is a, uh, an amazing person too.
And in a rock in the family, I didn’t, I didn’t mention where my father was originally from Scotland. And he came here as an immigrant when he was 13. And my, and my mother is an immigrant as well. She was an exchange student here in the States when she met my father. And she’s actually a teacher already from Germany, but was here on a Fulbright exchange program when she was in her early mid twenties.
So she met my father when he was just, I’m thinking of leaving the air force and, uh, one thing led to another and they got married and the rest is history at rest or that’s his history.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Paterson: So, um, and it was kind of foreshadowing that I would go into the military and I would eventually meet and marry.
Someone from Europe, um, Sunday. So it’s just pretty amazing how that unfolds.
David Hirsch: Well, not to focus on the negative, but in a prior conversation, you mentioned that your family is not immune from, um, adversity. You mentioned one of your sisters passed
Mark Paterson: my brother. Oh side. Yes, yes. Yeah. My, my younger brother, Bruce was very unfortunate.
I think of it as the, the terrible year, 2012. My father passed in September and myself and my family got together for, to celebrate his life, including my brother, Bruce was there and Bruce had a, um, It’s a difficult life. He had a lot of issues in his life and substance abuse issues and so forth. And he was, uh, you know, difficulty holding down work as a result, but he had, he was a wonderful person and a very, very intelligent a young man.
And it was, so it was, it was really a very sad situation and not for lack of effort on the part of the whole family to try to. Get him back on track throughout his life. But, uh, it ended up that, uh, two weeks after my father passed that Bruce passed as well.
David Hirsch: Oh my God. Yeah.
Mark Paterson: So the family came back together to celebrate Bruce’s life.
And I gave him two eulogies in three weeks. So there was a, a very, very heavy experience and it was, um, you know, all in the midst of. My son, Tim, and I’m in the heart of what we were dealing with him because he was six years old at the time. But, uh, you know, it, it, it was, it was very, very difficult to deal with, but it of course brought us together, even closer.
Me and the rest of my siblings as a family, we regularly get together. We talk all the time and now we have the smartphones. We can text with each other FaceTime and such, and we’re more involved in each other’s lives. And you know, that much closer. And, uh, you know, we look after our mother very closely.
She’s recently moved downward. My youngest sister lives in Roanoke, Virginia, and we visited there at her, her new home, uh, just a couple of months ago. And she’s settled in and. And it was already found her German friends, uh, you know, for, for their coffee clutches and so on. It’s quite nice. So, yeah, that was a, the annus horribilis is how I think of it.
- Mmm, Mmm. Or my brother and a very close friend from my childhood all passed away within a few months of each other, but. Yeah. That’s life. That’s how life is very unpredictable. Very unpredictable. You never know what’s right around the corner. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I can relate a little bit fact patterns, quite a bit different, but, uh, my wife and I buried three of our four parents within five months.
And, um, it wasn’t anticipated, you know, their end of life wasn’t anticipated. Um, yeah they were older. I mean, my mom, the youngest of the. Three passed it at 83, she was expected to live another five or 10 years. There’s that? My father-in-law a couple of months later, he was 91 Korean war veteran, himself, Navy guy.
He hung in there for a long time with his dementia. And then my dad, who also, it was a Navy guy. He died at 86, just a month after my father in law. And we felt like we were in a revolving door of grief.
Yeah, which is what I heard you saying with your dad and then your brother, and then this close to childhood friend and yes.
You know, it’s overwhelming. No, you just do what you have to do to get through the situation. And then I think as time goes on, you develop a perspective. Yes. Yeah. The importance of each of their lives, but it was hard to process because it was just back to back to back. So I can relate on a, on a small level.
From what I remember you saying you went to the Naval Academy. I think he took a degree in history.
Mark Paterson: Yes.
David Hirsch: Where was your career pointing when you’re coming out of the Naval Academy?
Mark Paterson: Well, when I was growing up, I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to be an air force pilot or, or a military pilot. And that was the pinnacle of adventure to me and fun, right.
To be driving a high performance jet aircraft. That’s what I really wanted. And when I was, uh, probably nine, 10 years old, so my, I started becoming nearsighted, you know, back then you, of course, had to be, I have 2020 vision to become a pilot. So the pilot dreams faded a little bit into the background. But it never fully went away.
And so when I was applying to college and considering military academies too, you know, which service I wanted to go in the army was out. Right. Because that meant perhaps being a helicopter pilot. And I, I didn’t want some reason I didn’t want that. So to me, it was between the air force, the Navy. Being who I was, the air force was first, first and foremost.
And my father had donated to the air force Academy. It was being built to have his name put on a seat in the stadium one day. Yeah. Many years later we went and found it and it was like a pilgrimage. Find his name on the seat from many years ago. It’s being Scottish and frugal. He wanted to see where his money went to.
That’s a great story. Yeah. So I applied to both at the air force Academy and the Naval Academy and, um, because of my lack of 2020 vision, I think I had better success in gaining admission to the Naval Academy and the air force Academy. Okay. My father and I became close with these liaison officers that help you as you’re going through the process, because the process, quite something to tell, you know, just getting it right.
David Hirsch: I thought you have to be nominated by like a Senator
Mark Paterson: right now. Yes. Yeah. I was nominated for both academies by my congressmen. Okay. So that the nomination process as a whole, a whole thing. And, uh, and then the admission process by the Academy is another, another written role. Yeah. So I was offered an appointment to the Naval Academy around.
February or March of my senior year in high school, after a year and a half process of talking to the Congressman interviewing with not just his staff, but, um, Senator D’Amato from New York, visiting both places and seeing what they were like talking with liaison officers and just a very, very thorough physical screening process as well.
You know, you have to be able to. To a certain number of, you know, push ups and pull ups and sit ups.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like it’s a, there there’s a lot required and it’s not like, you know, you’re the only one right there they can
Mark Paterson: pick and choose. Yeah. So each Congressman can nominate 10 people for each spot that they have at each of the.
The three major academies, air force, Naval Academy and West point. And at any one time, each member of Congress can have five people at each place that’s by us law, or it was at the time. So there was one spot available at each of the academies that my Congressman had and he appointed 10 nominees and I received the one on one appointments.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s very, very competitive. You know, you have to. Excellent grades and high sat scores. And so I studied for the sat for like six months or a year. Took the practice test, took it like three or four times.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, you’ve demonstrated your sincerity and your commitment right. At an early age and it worked out for you, but maybe not for the other nine people.
Mark Paterson: I’m sorry about that. I was going
David Hirsch: well. That’s great. So, uh, you’re in the Naval Academy and you graduate and then what did you have to make
Mark Paterson: at that time? It was a five year commitment to serve as an officer in the Navy. You know, the Naval Academy was, was a very interesting experience and very sort of foundational for me as well.
I nearly didn’t make it. I wanted to quit at one point. No, it was very young. When I went, I was 17 when I graduated from high school being one of the youngest in my class. And I don’t know if I was quite emotionally ready to go off to Annapolis at that age, maybe I would have been better served by doing something else, going to.
Some other college or community college or enlisting in the military or doing something else. Like a lot of my classmates did, but the first several months of the Naval Academy were very, very difficult. They’re difficult for everybody, you know, plebe year, you know, it was 1985 and a lot of the old school methods were, were still in place.
And, you know, it was, it was hotter than Hades and Annapolis, October of that first year. I did go to a phone booth and call my mom and dad and say, I’m Don I’m outta here. Come and get me. I’m sorry. I’m not going to make it. I don’t want to do this anymore. This isn’t worth what I’m having to go
David Hirsch: through.
Mark Paterson: They came down. Okay. They dropped everything they were doing with my four younger siblings were at home and come to think. I’d never even thought about how they got coverage for. My siblings to jump in the car and drive six hours to Annapolis for the ticket. But they did it. It was a priority. Yeah. Yeah.
So they came right away and, um, we met, um, we, we had, I had long talks with my dad while I was there and the Academy to their credit saw must’ve seen something in me and they, and I expressed to them that I think I might want to resign and get out of here. Um, but my parents were coming down when they’re talking to them and they allowed me time with my parents and it culminated with a talk with a, our battalion officer who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, a Vietnam veteran.
And I remember what he said to me. He said, Mark, I’ve had a long talk with your dad and your mom about your time here. You know, um, the Academy really. Believes that you could be a great officer or we wouldn’t have selected you to come here. We know that you’re younger and this is you’ve been having a tough time, but it’s, it’s all that’s for a reason to test you and your father and mom obviously would like you to continue here and we think you can do it.
We’re behind you, but we need you to be behind you. And we think you can do it. And, um, At that moment, I decided to stay and stick it out because, um, it was just me. I realized that I was being a bit of a quitter and that’s not, that’s not who I am. And, uh, I’m glad at that moment that I, that I stayed, I stuck it out.
Um, went through some more. A lot more difficult times, of course, but then things improve as, as you finish off that first year and you get to the second year, um, the academics were very, very difficult. Um, it challenging I’d say. Yeah. And then I graduated in 1989. Right? I did. Okay. At the Academy. I, you know, I did very well in high school.
I was a second in my class. And then small class, you know, maybe 97 of us graduated Frank New York, but, um, Naval Academy. I, I tell people that I was in, I was the, uh, the, the top half of the bottom, third of my class.
David Hirsch: Yeah.
Mark Paterson: But, um, you know, everybody who graduates is, is the exact same rank. Right. And, um, Uh, I’m, I’m glad I had a more difficult time in retrospect and silver lining because it made me a bit better person. I was tested and I felt that I was a better officer. And as a result, I was able to, um, deal with more aversary adversity as, uh, as time went on.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, days are a character building experiences, but when you look back on it at the time, you’re not thinking character building. You’re just
Mark Paterson: thinking, I
David Hirsch: don’t know if I could do this type of
Mark Paterson: mentality. He did say that they, they, they would say that, uh, something builds character right before we were about to do something that really sucked.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, um, you look back on it now and you realize that it was a foundational experience.
Mark Paterson: Yes.
David Hirsch: One of the aspects of that. Uh, really sort of resonates with me as part of your story is that, uh, your parents thought this is a priority, right. They show up. Right. And had that not been the case, you know, if you were just left to your own decision, maybe this story wouldn’t have played out the same way.
Mark Paterson: No, no, that was a, that was a crossroads for sure. Yeah. Moments. Yeah. Well thank you for sharing. So, uh, you serve your five years
David Hirsch: and, uh, what were you thinking when. Your
Mark Paterson: term was over. I was thinking career change. I’ve always been practical like that. And you know, I had done five years as an officer, a shipboard officer, and, um, I was thinking, how do I get started doing something else?
What’s the right start to be well prepared and, and succeed. I decided to get out of the military and go to business school. Okay. So I ended up going to USC. USC offered me a 200 tuitions, a scholarship to attend. Money talks, money, money talks, and, uh, USC is a very fine business school. It was kind of an up and coming business schools ranked in the top 20 in the country that I cared about that as well.
So I saw, I decided to go there and, um, I thoroughly enjoyed the two years of business school was it was the university that I didn’t have from, from, from the navel and the university experience campus lived off campus. And that, that was fun as well.
David Hirsch: So you finished your MBA at USC. And you plug yourself into work.
Mark Paterson: Yes. And, uh,
David Hirsch: just briefly, what is your career? But,
Mark Paterson: um, I did two years with Hewlett Packard in the San Francisco area and Silicon Valley, and that was a fast paced, but it was cubicle living. I was a fan. I was a senior financial analyst. Um, I thought finance would be an interesting career path after business school.
It was, but I didn’t enjoy it because I was trapped in the cube. Cool. I needed to be outside and maybe walking around. I’m an Explorer. Exactly. Exactly. I mean, I’m an outside guy. A friend of mine from the Academy had success with a junior military head hunting from a recruiter. I called them up and, um, they got me interviews with a few different companies and I ended up joining Penske truck, leasing and logistics as a master black belt in their six Sigma program.
David Hirsch: Well, I think a six Sigma on, I could be off on this as like a leadership development.
Mark Paterson: It was for, in my case, you know, I did it for. Three four years at Penske. And then I was given a leadership role actually, after I met my wife in the Netherlands, I Penske moved me to the Netherlands. After my first year in California, I moved, I decided to take that assignment because of my aunt and uncle that lived nearby in Germany.
It was just an extension of the adventure that I was on. I was still single. So I’m, I think at the time I’m 29, 30 years old unmarried. I moved near Amsterdam to the Netherlands. My wife went to be wife. We dated for a few years, got married there in the Netherlands in 2001. And then Penske moved us back here to Chicago.
And we’ve been in Chicago ever since. Wow. So the adventure is continued here. Adventure is continuing here in Chicago. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, that’s fabulous. Well, thanks for sharing.
Mark Paterson: Um,
David Hirsch: let’s switch gears to special needs on a personal level and then beyond, so I’m sort of curious before Timothy was born, did you or Leanne have any connection to the
Mark Paterson: special needs community?
Um, a little bit. My, my wife has always been, um, very, um, Connected to people with disabilities. That was one of the things that I thought was very attractive about Leon. Our first date, we were, it was an Amsterdam. We went to a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit and we went to Amsterdam’s it really incredible city and a lot of walking around and talking.
And she walked me back to the train station because I had to go back to it. Where I was living at the time. And there was a, there was a little old fellow that was, um, experiencing trouble or he was lost or he had dementia and, and, and she made a point of dropping what we were doing to help him and get him help.
And I was very impressed by that.
David Hirsch: A little foreshadowing, a little
Mark Paterson: foreshadowing. Yes. Yes. And, um, when she was in college, when we were dating, she worked on a helpline to help young people that were thinking of, uh, suicide, suicide helpline or that sort of thing. And, um, and so she always that, that that’s in her, it’s in her blood.
I th I think, um, when she was, uh, a little girl, her, her parents were caring for. They have a special needs, uh, uncle that was, was, uh, living in a, in a home near them that they would visit as well. Okay. So yeah. So her more so than you? Yes.
David Hirsch: Okay. So how did this autism diagnosis transpire?
Mark Paterson: Well, Tim was born in 2006 and he was a wonderful, healthy baby.
Nine out of 10 on this, on the rating scale and beautiful baby. When, when he was, when he was born, he was born nearly a month premature. And, um,
David Hirsch: we didn’t,
Mark Paterson: we didn’t think that that was, uh, going to cause any, any complications. He was alert. He had difficulty from the get, go with processing milk. Yeah, milk allergy and some,
David Hirsch: some allergies, lactose
Mark Paterson: intolerance, Towson tolerance.
Yeah. Yes. We noticed that pretty early on, but otherwise, um, you know, a wonderful baby as he got to be six months old, seven months old, we noticed some behaviors or some looking off into space or shaking his head and he’s referred to as our first child. Yes. Yeah. He was a first baby, but. You know, beyond that, nothing too out of the ordinary, when he got to, you know, one year old, he had his milestones, he was walking and I’ll even a few words.
Mama, dada pointing at things and interacting with peers that my wife had had friends who also had babies around the same time and interacting. And we have photos of him with his, his little girlfriends and so forth and he hit milestones. But. As time progressed as he became, you know, passed his first birthday to the 18 month point, the 24 month point, the words went away, the interest in, you know, normal activities or television programs or, or going places or pointing at things or, or verbalizing anything.
What it just, just wasn’t there. There, there were behaviors as well. There was a lot of, a lot of energy in this kid. He ran around constantly. He had a lot of difficulty sleeping, Tim, really? He never slept, I would say two or three consecutive nights through the night until he was five years old. And so my wife and I were, you know, we’d take turns being up with him at night.
It was just very extreme.
David Hirsch: He’s there when he’s the LA one, but more challenging as you grow your family.
Mark Paterson: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that, that certainly took a toll on all of us, but we tried to actively try to minimize the impact on it. His little brother is two years younger. Okay. His sleep by staying up with Tim.
So Tim would wake up at one o’clock in the morning and he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. And he would need to be comforted by me or my wife sitting by his bedside and be playing some light music or taking him to the bathroom. I drink water, et cetera. And then eventually, usually he’d go back to sleep around five in the morning, right around the time we had to get up and go to work
David Hirsch: Murphy’s law
Mark Paterson: course.
It never fails. So that was really the first five years were a blur. There, there were trips. Back to Europe to visit my wife’s family. Family is from the Netherlands has always visited us. My family can remember a lot of the difficulties that we had at that time
David Hirsch: diagnosis.
Mark Paterson: There was a lot of let’s share.
There was a diagnosis when he was two years old, two and a half, maybe, maybe almost three years old. And we, to a great extent, we knew what was going on very early on that’s something was, was off. But our doctors told us, you can’t really know for sure. Maybe it’s a, maybe he’s developing late. Let’s see if there’s words when he’s two years old, but if nothing’s really happening by the time you say two and a half, then there’s early interventions that we need that we need to do.
So we did go to several different doctors, including hospitals downtown at the children’s hospital in Chicago. Um, that you said that the best, the best, uh, doctors experts in the field on, on autism and sanction and yeah, it was autism spectrum disorder full on. I don’t know if it will be called the classic case, but where, where he was developing and, and had some words and then kind of went backwards, um, when he was a past one year old.
Yeah, we, we, you know, there’s a lot of things in the, in the media and in the autism world about, um, vaccines and, and different causes for it. And of course we read a lot of that stuff with great interest, but I don’t think it really mattered with him. I think he was the way he was. And we tried a lot of. A lot of, um, interventions and therapies.
We, we put ’em in, um, a school program from the time he was three years old, which was very difficult to do. Yeah. Well, you know, to, to put your child in it in a day program, that’s, that’s dedicated to, you know, special needs kids through our, through our school district when he was three years old. And, um, that was, uh, a wonderful program through our school district at the time.
And they were able to teach him some, some, a few basic life skills, like, uh, zipping his code and sitting at the table along with us, of course. But you know, it was a difficult, difficult time. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I can only imagine if he’s two or three. Your next son was born. So he’s a newborn toddler.
Mark Paterson: So he was born in Oh eight.
David Hirsch: Right? You’ve got your hands full. Like you still have a man on man defense, if you want to call it
Mark Paterson: that.
David Hirsch: And then you sort of made things a little bit more challenging by having your
Mark Paterson: daughter not to
David Hirsch: take anything away, but, uh, you know, life’s busy now cause you’ve gone from manna Amanda’s on defense.
You’ve got one player. Who’s. Maybe not got the same rule book that everybody else has. And, uh, no, it’s a
Mark Paterson: very uncertain, that’s what I’m hearing you say. Yep. It wasn’t so 2011, my, my daughter was born and, and thankfully we dialed a different number. They get to get a little girl and she was wonderful. Um, both Christopher and Julia were very easy babies, thankfully, and, and just wonderful little kids to raise and enjoy.
And Tim. Was not all bad either. Of course. And he’s a wonderful little kid. He’s a very sweet disposition, even in the context because of his autism. Yeah. Still a wonderful person and taught us a lot about why and how to be a good, a good person. He’s sweet. And he, he actually loves people. They say, if you, if you meet a person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism because they’re all different.
Well, a lot of people with autism don’t care to be around other people, or so I’ve heard, that’s not Tim. He likes being around other people. We would have people over for a party at our house or barbecue with the neighbors. And it would come to the end of the time where people had to go home and Tim would stand in front of the door and try to push me back end because he didn’t.
I want the party to end. He loved it. He loved having very social, very social we’ll come over to people that he’s, that he’s fond of and lean up against them, likes to hang out. Uh, and he’s, he’s just a very, very sweet guy.
David Hirsch: So, uh, he’s nonverbal,
Mark Paterson: he’s nonverbal
David Hirsch: and intellectually. Uh, whereas he would you guess,
Mark Paterson: um, It’s really hard to say.
I think he’s actually a very smart kid. You know, when, when you have a kid that’s nonverbal, it’s very hard to test their intelligence, but Tim’s very clever. One thing, one thing that’s dangerous about Tim is he’s a runner he’s always trying to get away or, or to run away and, and, and doesn’t recognize danger.
And that’s, um, one of the most challenging things that we’ve had to deal with and being as parents is. Where’s Tim. I imagine you have a
David Hirsch: story or two that, you know, you’re like, Oh my gosh.
Mark Paterson: Yeah. Yeah. Where do you go with the doors open? Thankfully, we, when that happened a couple times and we, we knew where he would be, we knew the places that he was fond of between our house, the next door neighbor’s house.
And, um, both times using the next door. Neighbor’s backyard. Yeah. Spot and they are, they’re just fond out. But, uh, that, that was always foremost in our mind as keeping him safe because he didn’t recognize the danger that was inherent and he couldn’t of course couldn’t take care of himself. And running off and doing whatever he was, whatever he was going to do, we had to keep him by us.
David Hirsch: So from a communication standpoint, uh, does he use an iPad or some computer device too?
Mark Paterson: Yeah. How does that work? So we bought one of the very first iPad ads and I don’t remember exactly when it came out. I think it was 2008 or 2009. Uh, because we recognized immediately that it could be a, a very handy communication device.
Yes. And shortly after the iPad came out, now there was a software company, ironically from the Netherlands that invented a software called Proloquo. Yes. And it was a point to a picture. It was basically a, a pics system. Um, A picture interactive communication system, I believe is photo interact. I’m not sure the exact acronym, but the pick system where Tim could point at an icon on the iPad.
And it would say, I want to go to the playground or I want to go for a walk or I need to go to the bathroom or I’m feeling sick. And so we. Where, one of the very first families in our school district to bring this iPad to a school program and say, you guys need to learn how to use this because we’re going to be using this at home.
And we’re going to put a case on this thing, that’s Bulletproof, and he’s going to take this thing back and forth, and this is how he’s going to learn to speak. Wow. And, um, You know, like everything with Tim, there was a lot of hope in the beginning and then it, then it kind of faded a bit as time went by and the, you know, this is not going to take us as far as we wanted to go.
That became his preferred go to device for, I want to have a snack or I want that second Popsie loves popsicles. Give me another Popsicle. Um, and, um, And, and he was never really able to express, uh, you know, thoughts that were beyond immediate needs. And he would, he would express that he needed to, you know, maybe use the washroom or that he wanted to go outside.
And that’s, that’s wonderful that he’s able to express those things and we rewarded that. But beyond that, there really wasn’t a whole lot of development since then. So he’s still nonverbal today. Yeah. So
David Hirsch: other than. Not other than, but, uh, other than the bigger picture issue, being a runner, right. Safety and those concerns.
Are there any other challenges, but you and Leanne have
Mark Paterson: Yes. Um, Tim is Tim’s allergies to peanuts and tree nuts and shellfish, I believe are very severe. So. We found out about his allergy to peanuts the hard way. Okay. We were just at random having a random dinner at a, I can’t remember where it was like a Chili’s or a TGI Fridays or something when Tim was one year old.
And, um, he had a bite of a, of a peanut butter type dessert that we were having and he started blowing up like a balloon.
David Hirsch: Wow. That must’ve been very scary.
Mark Paterson: Very scary. So. Quickly as I could to the hospital right down the road, same hospital where I was born Northwest community hospital and sure enough, he’s allergic.
And so, um, from there on out everywhere, Tim goes, he has an epi pen there with him.
David Hirsch: Have you had to use
Mark Paterson: it? I have not. His school has, and I believe little city has once we got, got into some peanuts or something, some
David Hirsch: exposure
Mark Paterson: or just as a precaution because they weren’t sure. And that’s absolutely the right thing to do.
David Hirsch: They want to err on the side,
Mark Paterson: caution with that because it’s can be life threatening, but that was, uh, one additional challenge as he was growing up, you know, to watch the food restaurants. One thing that we did for, for vacations that we regarded as kind of a safe space and it’s kind of expensive and we, I should have become a shareholder earlier on, was, went to Disney a lot.
David Hirsch: Oh really? Yeah.
Mark Paterson: Disney is a wonderful, um, accommodative place for people with special needs. But like I said, I wish I had become a shareholder before I spent so
David Hirsch: much money to
Mark Paterson: take the family there. A lot of Krista, the little kids loved it. Tim loved it. The, the account combination for Tim’s allergies for not being able to, you know, really stand in line and wait sure.
For a ride. They have accommodations for all of that. Of course, it’s a wonderful, sunny, fun place. Very family centered, very family centric. So when Tim’s four or five, six years old, every year, we we’d go down there during the winter time. And those are fond memories from when he was little. So I’m
David Hirsch: speaking of the other kids, I’m wondering what impact a Timothy situations had on Christopher and Juliet or the rest of your family for that matter
Mark Paterson: first and foremost.
Made all of us more cognizant, um, people with special needs around us and the kids as well. Other kids, um, adults, any person that needs extra help, we call it from the time the kids were little. That person needs extra help that these people are there. That they’re human beings like the rest of us. That they have things that they’d like to do.
Things that they’re good at things that they’re not good at, and to look at them as people and not people to be voided people to be embraced like any other person. Our little ones definitely saw how play dates would be interrupted. Homework was not able to be accomplished, at least not with me and my wife, because we were caregiving for Tim.
That some other kids that were maybe potential friends of theirs or people that might’ve come over to visit to play or that sort of thing. But that didn’t happen perhaps because we had Tim, these things happen that that’s out there, you know, that’s just reality. You know, you’ve got a kid with autism in the house that is that’s, that’s a, might be a scary thing to other parents who.
They don’t know what that is. They don’t know if is that safe for my kid to even be over there. What’s that what’s that kid like and only imagine. Right. Right, right. So the little ones didn’t have a, an early childhood, like other kids, for sure. My wife and I were very, very busy with Tim making sure that he was well taken care of that he was in a, in a good spot, but that that’s not to say that we didn’t.
Do our best to make sure that they had childhood experiences, um, sports activities, holidays, family, girl Scouts, et cetera. We just had to make an extra special effort hiring caregivers to watch Tim while we would, the four of us would go into, and there was a lot of guilt involved in that, by the way, putting Tim with a babysitter.
So the four of us could go to Chicago and just go to Navy pier and do something. Hey, we left our 10 year old kid or nine year old kid with autism at home so that we could go, you know, have a day that’s almost like a respite. It was a respite. It was, it was exactly that. And we started doing that more and more when Tim was eight, nine, 10 years old, I think.
During those years, we realized and came to the conclusion that that was absolutely necessary for our own health and wellness as a family and as people ourselves, my wife and I, I feel bad to say this, but to be a normal family or to have a normal moment or a normal hour, a normal day. Or, you know, three hours or four hour excursion to the museum of science and industry, and actually be able to experience that museum or go see the blue man group or whatever, go see Scrooge for Christmas.
So that became more and more impactful to us to do those kinds of things. At the same time, Tim is home, you know, with a caregiver. In the home environment is constantly where’s Tim, the trying to get out of the house. He’s getting older, faster, stronger. Yeah. Difficulties in finding caregivers that can look after Tim while we’re at school or work
David Hirsch: during not just hiring the girl next door, you know, who might know
Mark Paterson: three or four years old?
No, no. We had experienced caregivers that we knew we could trust from who knew Tim from a very early age. Thankfully. Who were just angels and being there to care for him for a few hours while we were gone. But, you know, these were young people that were already in college or getting into lives of their own and, and moving away or whatever.
So it was, it was all very good time-bound thing through the time when Tim was like eight, nine, 10 years old, we more and more saw the impact of our distraction or our. Need to care for him? Um, the two younger ones. Okay. It was detracting from, from there. Yeah, well,
David Hirsch: every family has to figure out where the center
Mark Paterson: of gravity is.
David Hirsch: Sure. And there’s not one size fits all
Mark Paterson: right.
David Hirsch: Every situation, like you said, if you have, you know, one person with autism,
Mark Paterson: you know, or some of that that’s right. That
David Hirsch: there’s some similarities and you can compare one to another, but you know, it’s a pretty broad spectrum. Yeah. And I’m wondering when you’re at that fork in the road, figuring out, okay, how are we going to do this?
Right. You know, Things seem very unsettled. Little city is one
Mark Paterson: option here in the Northwest suburbs of
David Hirsch: Chicago. Where there other organizations that you considered, or how did you and Leanne get to the point where you’re like, maybe we need to be thinking outside the box, the box being the house. Yes. You know,
Mark Paterson: what are our options?
Yes. Yes. There’s a several different options and that. I hate to use the word, but there’s a spectrum of options as well. There’s services offered through the state home-based services and we certainly signed up or, uh, you know, all of the interventions through the state and school districts and et cetera.
But there’s a, there’s a home based program through Illinois department of health services. I believe that we looked at. And basically it was, it was reimbursement for caregivers, that sort of thing, which we were doing anyway out of. Okay. It wasn’t about the money. It was just about the, you know, finding caregivers that we trusted to look after Tim in the home environment.
And that was really the issue, the physical issue of caring for him, you know, 24 seven when, especially the times when he wasn’t at school. And having coverage for that while we’re raising two younger children around that time, my wife was through a friend of hers, was on the serving on the board of a organization called countryside.
It’s actually now merged with little city. So my wife came to be on the board of little city and became more aware of what little city does. The countryside largely provided day services, work opportunities for adults with special needs through countryside and countrysides merger with little city and Leon’s activities with that, we became closer with, with little city and learning more about what was offered here.
The first thing we did was put Tim in the little city school, which is right here on the campus. And we were very impressed by that. So that was a good fit for him. It was, it was a very good fit for him. He’s still there through various, uh, you know, kinda coming to the realization that we weren’t putting our absolute best foot forward with raising our two younger children because of the amount of bandwidth that we were just having to spend taking care of him.
As you can only hire so many babysitters, you can only. You don’t get so much help. You still have to be there as a parent. And he was, is very, very intensive. We started to have that discussion, which is a very, very difficult discussion, the most difficult of a lifetime it’s 10 times more difficult than the Naval Academy anatomy or going to war or anything.
The thing I’ve been through is having a, a child whose got special needs, who. You’re thinking of placing somewhere to sleep overnight with someone is not your family, because they can do a better job of looking after him than you can in the context of your, you know, your need to take care of the rest of your family, extraordinarily difficult heart wrenching
David Hirsch: decision.
What period of time did that take you and Leanne to come to that
Mark Paterson: realization? Probably about a year, year and a half, two years. I don’t know it was, it was a, it was a, an evolution as it became more difficult. And we saw the empty act of our current situation on the two younger children that needs to, they were, they were growing up and, and, and Christopher is, um, you know, ADHD.
He has. Issues as well. He’s a very smart kid and actually quite, yeah, the talented kid and a lot of different ways. He’s, he’s a rock and roll drummer we have in the school of rock and immediately trying to get into the rush ban, which is the most difficult, um, drawing routines and so forth. He’s a great kid, but you know, he’s got challenges.
It needs a lot of attention as well. And then, then a little girls, maybe we got to meet her someday. She has really something. Eight years old going on 18 and really daddy’s girl and probably the shotgun or something. Yeah. She’s something. Um, for their sake, we began to explore the possibility of placing him somewhere outside of our home, but it needed to be absolutely the right place.
And actually through little city, we toured. Tim’s future home, the Foglia home. Okay. We were immediately impressed by it. There’s eight young boys living there, teenagers, mostly between the ages of
David Hirsch: 10, 11, 12, and
Mark Paterson: 21. Each resident
David Hirsch: of Foglia each boy has it
Mark Paterson: has their own room. They share a bathroom with one other kid there’s 24 seven care there.
The home is purpose built for kids with autism. There’s a, there’s a rec room. There’s a sensory room. The kitchen is properly closed off during non meal times and non snack times. The time is regimented there’s things to do. There’s a lady that comes on Tuesday nights with a guitar or a banjo and sing songs.
They love that. So there’s, there’s a constant routine and a rhythm to the place. And that was all very important to us. But the most important thing to us was that it’s 10 minutes away from our house. And once we made the decision to place Tim here, we saw Tim. We had him either visiting our house or out to restaurant or something every day for maybe the first six months that he was here because we wanted him and our whole family to continue.
Tim’s gone to Hogwarts is what we would say. You know what? Tim’s gone to boarding school, right? He’s in a house that is purpose built for taking care of him. He goes, it goes to school every morning. We are seeing him every day or at least two, three, four times a week week, which we still do. We’re very involved in his life.
He’s well taken care of. We know all the caregivers, we know his teachers and we’re very plugged in the little city and it was life changing for us as a family to be able to, for our two younger ones to sit down and do homework, not that homework is so important, but just to be able to pay attention to our two younger children, to participate in afterschool activities, to go places, to go for a walk, to, to do.
A lot of little things that when you’re in the whirlwind of autism in the home, in our case, we just, just weren’t able to do. And, um, when you’re present in the moment when it’s happening and it feels like autism kind of happens to you, you know what I mean? Like a lot of other adverse things that happen in people’s lives, you deal with it in the moment.
And in our case it was so. Intense that you hardly even have time to complain about it,
David Hirsch: like suffered
Mark Paterson: fire. Yes. Suffocating kind of, kind of firefighting mode all the time. It was almost like being a prisoner. Not that it’s exactly like being in prison or, but in some ways we were at, we were in a, in a, in a box and you avoid certain things too, because you don’t want to be reminded of other people having a, you know, a life like.
Kind of sad, but in our old house, there’s there’s baseball fields. Um, and I would not drive past them. I drive around the other way. Well, I just didn’t, I just didn’t feel like seeing other kids playing ball or something. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Well I think that’s human nature.
Mark Paterson: Yeah, sure. Yeah. Well, I’m thrilled, silly, but
David Hirsch: to hear that you and Leanne, while you might’ve struggled for a year or two making the decision, it just, I think underscores.
The gravity or the importance of that decision. It’s not one of those
Mark Paterson: just wake up one morning and say,
David Hirsch: Oh, you know, that’s the solution. I’ll have them. It’s sort of evolving, you know, going back and forth. And the anguish, the guilt, like you were making reference to that any parent would feel that I’m not able to do this myself.
Right. And maybe acknowledging your vulnerability as a dad, as a family to say, No, we’re not, we’re not where we need to be. We’re not serving everybody in the family. There’s a fellow that I interviewed very early on, Randy Lewis and, uh, Randy has an autistic son. He’s the middle child with two daughters.
One daughter on either side, Randy has sort of a lighthearted way of talking about this, but
Mark Paterson: you know, same serious
David Hirsch: subject matter, which is Boston is his son’s name. Was like an alien who was
Mark Paterson: put here on earth
David Hirsch: and Austin’s going to have to learn to live on earth. It’s not going to be the other way around.
We’re not going to, like, everybody’s not going to be able to like become aliens. And, you know, it was really difficult Austin in his late twenties now. And you know, the good news is
Mark Paterson: many parents report this,
David Hirsch: that, you know, I. I couldn’t imagine my son would be doing all the things he’s doing today versus where
Mark Paterson: he was two years ago or five
David Hirsch: years ago, things are gonna evolve.
Mark Paterson: Right.
David Hirsch: And I’m hoping that that’s
Mark Paterson: your experience as well,
David Hirsch: which is, you know, you’ve regained some family balance. It’s not as difficult to breathe as it was. And you can focus on everybody’s needs in an environment that. You know,
Mark Paterson: there’s more stable
David Hirsch: and allows you to be more present and
Mark Paterson: fully engaged.
Yes, that’s absolutely. The case every year has fortunately been better than the last for us.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know what role, if any, has spirituality played in your lives?
Mark Paterson: Um, it’s there, I would say I haven’t had a whole lot of conversations with my wife about it, but the way I, I think about it is that.
That God has put Tim here for a purpose, right? For a purpose, perhaps somewhat to make us better people to Megan’s brother and sister, better people to show that there’s there’s worth in every single person that the people in Tim’s life that love him, love him for a reason because he’s sweet and he’s funny.
The things that he does or are Mmm. Added. We’ve added the same family doctor for many, many years, and we take them there. And, um, for this, that, or the other thing, and she usually concludes by saying you don’t tenure. Interesting.
David Hirsch: Interesting.
Mark Paterson: And you’re, you’re a real challenge to figure you out, but he’s made all the rest of us and his life better.
And maybe there’s a, there’s a, there’s an over overarching purpose in that. No. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, time will tell you you can’t no, what the future is going to be like an anticipated or you can’t connect the dots looking forward. Sure. You can only connect the dots looking backwards.
That’s right. So, and I think you’re spot on that.
We all have a purpose and whether you’re typical or atypical a man or a woman, a young personal person, and. You’re hoping that you can find your purpose, right? The intention here, an audit.
Mark Paterson: Sure. So, well, thanks for sharing.
David Hirsch: So I’m wondering under the category of advice, if there’s, um, a piece of advice or two you’d like to share with our listeners.
Mark Paterson: Absolutely. I would say, um, if you, you have a child, that’s there first. There’s no child. Exactly like Tim, but if you have concerns about a youngster. As issues go cocaine advice right away. Don’t wait, get medical advice, but seek out people that, that have gone through a similar experience we did as well.
Well, and, and it was, it was really impactful. There’s a lady down the street, actually. That was a, was that was an angel in the, and the autism society of Illinois. And it was, it was comforting to just talk to other people who have been through a similar experience. Very important. There’s tons of resources through school districts, through the state organizations that offer respite care services.
That’s how we became very close with someone. Very important in our life. One of Tim’s, um, respite volunteers is still very involved in their lives. She’s a very close friend of ours has been now for gosh, 10 years and. This help is out there. These organizations are out there. There’s people out there that volunteer their time to talk about and give advice on things that have worked for them.
You’re always your parent. You’re going to do the right thing for your child and your situation, but to talk about it and talk through not just possible solutions, but be able to say we’re seeing this as this unusual. Onono, we’ve seen that before we know somebody and that’s. Therapy for the parents, as much as it can be a help for the child.
That’s absolutely crucial. So, what you’re doing is amazing too, because you’re, you know, you’re, you’re getting this, these experiences out to a much wider audience, so thank you.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you. Um, so I think what I hear you saying is that, uh, you want to get beyond a denial phase as fast as you can, so that you can engage in intentional
Mark Paterson: about seeking out whatever resources are available.
David Hirsch: So, um, why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of that Special Fathers Network?
Mark Paterson: Well, it’s a, it’s a lot like what’s motivating you there to give something back. We’ve been given so much by so many people who have cared for our child over the years that have helped teach him and mentor him and look out for him.
Teachers, caregivers, neighbors, friends, relatives, society in general. Is in a much, much different place blessedly than it was 40, 50, 60, a hundred years ago. Thank God that we are where we are, and we’re getting to an ever better place for how we care for people with special needs. And God knows where there’s a long way to go here in Illinois and in other States as well to take care of.
Not just children with autism, but adults with autism, that’s, that’s coming fast for us, for others. Like, uh, like Dan, who you spoke to it’s upon them, you know, it comes quickly. So these are really important discussions and figuring out how we do things better. So I’m doing this because I want to help.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, we’re happy to have you as part of the team. Thank you for volunteering. Let’s give a special shout out to Shawn Jefferson as staff at little city for putting us in contact with one another.
Mark Paterson: Yeah. Wonderful man, and a wonderful organization.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Mark Paterson: Um, I just like to say, thanks, thanks for your time and your efforts to, uh, with, with this podcast and, and what you’re doing, David it’s, it’s really incredible. Um, what you’ve been able to do, this is your, you know, your, your spare time and your passion for doing this as obviously reaching a lot of people that, um, Are really benefiting.
They need to hear that they need to hear these stories that there’s, there’s, there’s other people out there that are navigating this and, and doing what we can to creatively cope and live our lives.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, yeah. And thank you.
Mark Paterson: Yup. Thank you.
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to get some information on little city or perhaps contact you, what’s the best way to go about doing that?
Mark Paterson: Well, I’m on LinkedIn or a, if they want to contact me through little city or my wife, Leanne, who’s a board member at little city. She always knows where I am. Okay. So I’m happy to connect with people on LinkedIn, through LinkedIn message. Or otherwise.
David Hirsch: Great. Yeah. Well Mark, thank you for taking the time and many insights.
As a reminder, Mark is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network, dad to dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, as you probably know. The 21st century dads foundation has a 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free.
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Mark. Thanks again.
Mark Paterson: Thank you, Dave.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
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The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.