Autism Success Stories: Renewing Love After Resentment

Kyle Jetsel, a dedicated father of a young adult on the spectrum, opens up about his journey with his son, Erik. Through the many challenges and moments of frustration, Kyle learns the importance of how he reacts to the ups and downs they face.

His memories and dreams helped him shift his perspective, leading to finding a renewed love for his son. He hopes that his story will help others realize how unconditional love, understanding, and acceptance can have a transformative impact on the relationships we have with our loved ones on the spectrum.

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Kyle’s story: Their everyday struggles

Today is my son Erik’s birthday.

Erik is on the more severe end of the autism spectrum. More often than not, he’s not a big fan of mine. 

His constant disdain for me can sometimes get to where it “beats me down.” Other times, frankly, it hurts me deeply.

Over time, I’ve learned to cope with it well and manage my expectations of how I expect to be treated. Sometimes, however – and I’m ashamed to say it, but sometimes, I just don’t like his grumpy butt.

There, I said it. Don’t judge me. Sometimes I’d rather not be around him when he’s just crappy to me. 

Take this past weekend, for example. We took him to all the places he likes to go and did everything he likes to do. We even ate where he likes to eat.

Still, towards the end of the day, in front of Target, he got annoyed and “took a shot” at me. It aggravated some nerve damage that I struggled to manage.

And yes, “took a shot” means what you think it means.

I patiently responded, de-escalated the situation just like I always do, and restored some sanity before we all got back in the car to go home happily.

However, my disgust for how he has been treating me grew deeper and deeper…I found myself (again, I’m ashamed to say it), but I caught myself resenting him.

Kyle’s story: The moment of realization

As I put him to bed last night, with his birthday coming up today, he frowned unhappily at me. I again felt resentment and immediately knew it was not a good idea to continue along that thought path.

But what could I do? He was beating me down. (Kinda literally.)

Then I remembered a book I had read called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

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Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychologist who lived in Austria during the time when Hitler came to power. When he was captured, he was stripped of everything – and he was thrown into one of the death camps. 

Amidst the unimaginable suffering, terror, and abuse, he observed a profound contrast in human responses. 

Some prisoners became bitter, angry, and even seemed to lose their humanity, while others displayed remarkable acts of compassion and selflessness.

He saw the very best in people in the most terrible of situations. Frankl also made the claim that some – amid unimaginable horror – achieved saint-like attributes.

That’s when I realized the path I needed to take was clear. 

I get to choose. I get to choose frustration, anger, bitterness… even resentment.

Or… I get to choose something entirely different.

So, I hatched a plan.

I decided I would put myself to sleep by reliving and “re-experiencing” in my mind the most wonderful moments I’d experienced with Erik.

Kyle’s story: Thinking of happy moments with his son

As I closed my eyes to sleep, I re-experienced the day I taught Erik how to say “I love you” to his mom for the first time. It took me about four hours worth of work.

He was eight. He smiled from ear to ear as if he’d just created world peace when he said it. My wife and I cried tears of joy.

I re-experienced the day he finally learned how to use the toilet all by himself – wiping and everything. Sorry. Maybe TMI?

He was nine. The joy my wife and I experienced (and we flooded all over Erik) was overwhelming.

I re-experienced the day he rode his bike for the first time with no training wheels. He was eleven. The smile that was plastered on his face could be seen from space.

Over and over, I re-experienced overwhelmingly happy moments with Erik until I fell asleep.

Erik and his dad

Kyle’s story: The dreams that changed everything

In my dream that night, Erik was two years old again. I walked in the door after work and he turned and saw me.

He ran towards me with his arms wide open, jumped into my arms, and kissed me all over my face. Then he sat in my lap and sucked his thumb while he rubbed the tip of my nose with his fingers. 

Just like he’d done so many years ago when he was two years old.

Almost immediately, I woke up. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of pure love. 

I wanted so badly to fall back into that dream that I started thinking more and more about that feeling until I fell asleep again.

This time, I had a different dream. We were now in the afterlife, and Erik was a fully grown man.

As he saw me from afar, he smiled a huge smile, turned, and started running towards me with his arms wide open.

Then, he wrapped his arms around me tight. With no mental challenges and a complete understanding, he clearly and without hesitation whispered in my ear…

“Thank you, Dad. For raising me and loving me and struggling with me and teaching me. I love you.”

Almost immediately, I woke up again. The feelings of overwhelming love swept over me like a wave. It was exhilarating. It was magnificent. I was speechless and thoughtless and just laid there soaking up that feeling.

That’s when I realized what I needed to do.

Kyle’s story: A shift in perspective

My job is simple. I must make Erik feel loved, accepted, appreciated, and understood. My job is to love him unconditionally. No matter what.

Because that’s what I felt in both of those dreams. I felt Erik’s unconditional love. Vividly and clearly. I was overwhelmed by the feelings of love

And those are the feelings he’ll now receive from me. I will choose, every day, to love unconditionally.

This morning, as I was sitting on the stairs slipping on my socks, Erik burst loudly out of his bedroom door. As I looked up, I saw that old familiar scowl.

But instead of resentment, I popped up, smiled real big, and wrapped my arms around his skinny little frame. I whispered in his ear very clearly and without hesitation…

“Happy Birthday, Erik. I love you.”

Then, for the first time in forever…He hugged me back.

Erik in his room

This article was featured in Issue 162 – Love: Home & Community

If you have a success story you would like to share with us and our readers, you can email it to us or submit your story here.


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