During their eight road trips Tyler discovered his father’s unconditional love. Ron learned that Tyler was wired neurologically different—he would have to rewire himself to fit Tyler’s unique mind and interests.
By Ron Sandison
Ron and his wife Lori noticed during elementary school their son Tyler’s encyclopedic vocabulary and tendency to be more verbal than their two daughters. Tyler was socially awkward, had difficulty with transitions, and uncoordinated at athletics. Lori was concerned because Tyler’s classmates bullied him and he had no friends except for two boys in the neighborhood who only tolerated him.
Watching the NBC drama Parenthood, Lori noticed Tyler and the character Max who had Asperger’s shared many common traits. After watching three episodes and seeing Max’s meltdowns, difficulty interacting in social situations and special interest with bugs—Lori and Ron decided to have Tyler tested for Asperger’s. An Aspergers’ diagnosis could explain Tyler’s high IQ (in the 98th percentile) and perfect recall of details while performing poorly in academics.
At twelve, Tyler was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Lori suggested to Ron, “You need to take Tyler on a road trip to meet presidents and help him learn to interact socially. This will be a great bonding experience for the two of you.” Tyler had an obsession with American history and Ron was a journalist covering the U.S. presidency.
Six months after Tyler’s diagnosis father and son were on the road to D.C. for a White House Christmas party with President Obama and the First Lady Michelle. During the ride, Tyler practiced handshaking and saying hello. As they waited in the Green Room to meet the president, Tyler nervously exclaimed, “I hope I don’t let you down, Dad.”
“Still playing hoops?” asked President Obama. During the 2008 presidential campaign Obama and Ron played a few pickup games. Michelle gently brushed Tyler’s bangs from his eyes as the four posed for a photo.
In Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River, Ron and Tyler met with Bill Clinton in his 68,698-square-foot presidential library. A book of two polar bears fighting caught Tyler’s attention. Former President Clinton said to Tyler, “Do you like that book? It’s yours.” Bill also graciously gave Tyler an original 1919 first edition of Theodore Roosevelt’s letters to his children. One of Tyler’s special interests is his favorite president Theodore Roosevelt.
Bill Clinton and Tyler both love to talk about things that interest them. Former President Clinton as a politician is smooth in his delivery with long pauses and insightful tidbits of knowledge. Tyler is faster paced – moving from tangent to tangent without a set conversational pattern—a greyhound chasing a rabbit. Between Bill and Tyler the conversation was like a volcanic verbal eruption – spewing mind magma in every direction. As they drove off, Tyler told his dad, “Nice guy, Bill! But he sure does talk a lot about himself and his stuff.”
Final stop was Dallas to meet former President George W. Bush. Tyler enjoyed meeting the President’s Scottish terrier Barney. Bush and Tyler laughed and talked for a few minutes about types of dogs of former Presidents while in the Oval Office. As they exited, President Bush grabbed Ron’s arm and said, “Love that boy.” This statement had a profound impact on Ron and would be the title of his bestseller.
“Love that boy, came to mean for me—love Tyler for who he is and not who I desired him to be—to celebrate his differences—enjoying his uniqueness and quirks that bring joy to our family,” Ron shares. “Parents who have a child with autism should not try and force him to be like them. But like the scene in an episode of Parenthood; when Max reveals to his father that he loves bugs, the father responds, ‘Since you like bugs, I also now like bugs!’ Love that boy means taking an interest in the things that interest Tyler.”
During their eight road trips, Tyler discovered his father’s unconditional love. Ron learned that Tyler was wired neurologically different—he would have to rewire himself to fit Tyler’s unique mind and interests.
Ron encourages parents, “True happiness, the kind of happiness we ought to wish for our children and for ourselves is almost always the result of doing hard but good things over and over. Happiness is discovered in doing good deeds—not pleasure.”
Ron shares how his beliefs have changed. “I believed that fathers and sons could only connect by sports. But on our road trip in the yard of a dead president Thomas Jefferson—I discovered the importance lesson of a son’s love for his father. My son Tyler confided to me, ‘I played sports only because I wanted to make you happy Dad.'”
Ron Fournier is publisher and editor of Crain’s Detroit Business. He is a board member of Autism Alliance of Michigan and author of the bestseller Love That Boy. Previously he worked at Atlantic Magazine, the National Journal and as Washington bureau chief at the Associated Press (AP) until leaving in June 2010.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org