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“My Wife Said, ‘If You Can’t Handle it, Leave!’"


When our daughter was diagnosed with autism, it was like a death. Not in a literal sense, obviously, but it was the death of the dreams we had for our daughter. No proms, high school graduation, or walking her down the aisle on her wedding day. 

Ryan was brought into this world through the miracle of in-vitro fertilization.  She was so wanted, and her mother suffered all the twists and turns that fertility treatments bring. My wife delivered Ryan via a dramatic C-section. When she was born, I made a promise to my daughter that I was going to do everything possible to take care of her. 

My wife began to notice that Ryan wasn't like her typical peers when she was about 2. Tantrums were the norm, and she didn't want to have anything to do with me. When we attended a childhood early intervention interview through our school district, the word “autism” was introduced to us. I couldn't grasp what was said, but my wife, being a registered nurse, knew what it meant. I could tell she was holding back the tears. 

As a typical male, I buried my head in the sand. I thought she would grow out of it. My wife, on the other hand, declared war. She immediately began her crusade to get Ryan better. She put her RN education to use by determining what interventions to try: biomedical, diets, hyperbarics, applied behavioral analysis, and occupational therapies. To fund these therapies, we had to take a second mortgage out on the house, and I worked as much overtime as I could. Sometimes I pulled 75-hour weeks. One day I asked my wife when the financial bleeding would end. “If you can't handle it, leave!” she thundered. “I'm not giving up on Ryan.”  

Well, my story has a happy ending. Our autism journey is in its seventh year.  After all the interventions, therapies, and hard work, Ryan is in a typical fourth grade classroom. She is a stubborn, funny girl that any father would be proud of.  We are looking forward to those proms, high school and college graduations, and most of all, I look forward to leading her down the aisle on her wedding day. 

By Mark Vaughn, dad of Ryan, 10