Fathers and Autism – 2 things dads do better than moms

Fathers play a vital role in the cognitive, social and emotional development of their children.

Don’t believe what modern TV shows you, Fathers play a vital role in the development of their children and science is there to prove it.11 In fact, there are 2 things that fathers do better than moms for their children’s development. Keep reading to find out what they are. (Hint: it’s toward the end…)

Note: While the research was done on neurotypical children there is no reason to dismiss it when it comes to children with developmental disorders, such as autism.

Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes.

A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with:

  • Higher IQs,
  • Better linguistic skills,
  • Better cognitive capacities,
  • Start school with higher levels of academic readiness,
  • More patience at school9

The influence of a father’s involvement on academic achievement extends into adolescence and young adulthood.

Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with:

  • Better verbal skills,
  • Better intellectual functioning, and
  • Better academic achievement among adolescents.

For instance, a 2001 U.S. Department of Education study found that highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly A’s and 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a grade3,14

Even from birth

Children who have an involved father are more likely to:

  • Be emotionally secure,
  • Be confident to explore their surroundings,
  • As they grow older, have better social connections with peers,
  • Be more ready to accept comfort from their parent after a brief separation,
  • Be less likely to get in trouble at home, school, or in the neighborhood2,4,8,9,16

4 ideas of things to do with your child with autism on father’s day

Father’s day quote: “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.”—Dr. Ken Canfield, Founder and President, National Center for Fathering5

Have fun

The way fathers play with their children also has an important impact on a child’s emotional and social development. Fathers spend a much higher percentage of their one-on-one interaction with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers.

From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. Roughhousing with dad, for example, can teach children how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions6.

ACTIVITY IDEA: Roughhousing

Similar for kids with autism, especially because there are not complex rules10

Be active

Fathers should maintain the active, physical, and playful style of fathering as their children age. In other words, when it comes to father-child fun, active pursuits like the ones listed below are more valuable than passive activities such as watching television – —for their relationship and for their child’s emotional well being, social development, and physical fitness13:

  • Hiking,
  • Going to the swimming pool (contact your local pool’s attendant for the best times to go),
  • A trip to the hardware store (usually quieter than most large stores, and safer as fewer things can break),
  • A visit to a fast food place like Dairy Queen (where seats and tables are usually screwed into the floor) or McDonald’s where they have play areas1

ACTIVITY IDEA: Play in water in the garden

All you need is a bucket of water, small beach toys, and NO RULES. Playing with water, splashing around and making a wet mess is popular among most kids, with or without developmental delays. Your child may appreciate the freedom of splashing with full permission to make everything wet.

Be productive

Fathers should engage in productive activities with their children such as household chores, washing dishes after dinner, or cleaning up the backyard. Research consistently shows that such shared activities promote a sense of responsibility and significance in children that is, in turn, linked to greater self-esteem, academic and occupational achievement, psychological well-being, and civic engagement later in life.


Create your favorite dish with him. Allow him to make a mess and get his hands dirty (Consider making the meal outside). It could be a simple meal that can be consumed immediately after preparing it, such as:

  • French toast,
  • A toasted sandwich,
  • Lemonade,
  • A smoothie,
  • A banana split.

Be involved in teaching them

Fathers should spend time fostering their children’s intellectual growth. Some studies suggest that fathers’ involvement in educational activities—from reading to their children to meeting with their child’s teacher—is more important for their children’s academic success than their mother’s involvement.15 

ACTIVITY IDEA: Use a puppet to tell a story

As Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. explains, “Puppets are a wonderful tool to use in the preschool classroom for all ages. It doesn’t really matter what kind of puppet you use – in fact you can just talk with your hand and kids find it funny and they pay attention.12

I looked online for “puppet stories for toddlers” and found a few videos and scripts that I thought were cute. Good luck!7


As a Father myself, I found it really interesting that I roughhouse more with my kids that my wife, Rachel does, and that it helps teach them how to deal with aggressive impulses and physical contact without losing control of their emotions. Of course, everyone is different. The dynamics in your family may very well be reversed and that’s good. This is a major takeaway from this article. Not everyone plays the same role in a child’s development, so we all need to be engaged.

What will you be doing more of with your kids now that you know that?

Additional Resources about Fathers

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  1. Accessibility | McDonald’s Canada. [accessed 2018 Jun 14]. https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/accessibility.html
  2. Elizabeth Peters H, Day RD, Peterson GW, Steinmetz S. Fatherhood: Research, Interventions, and Policies. Routledge; 2014.
  3. Goldstein HS. Fathers’ Absence and Cognitive Development of 12- to 17-Year-Olds. 1982;51(3):843–848.
  4. Harris KM, Marmer JK. Poverty, Paternal Involvement, and Adolescent Well-Being. 1996;17(5):614–640.
  5. Horn WF, National Fatherhood Initiative. Father Facts. 1998.
  6. Leidy MS, Schofield TJ, Parke RD. Fathers’ Contributions to Children’s Social Development. In: Handbook of Father Involvement.
  7. Library Related. Scripts For Hand- And Finger-Puppet Shows for Kids. 2009 Oct 18 [accessed 2018 Jun 14]. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/426645764679561988/
  8. Pleck JH, Stueve JL. Time and paternal involvement. In: Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research. 2001. p. 205–226.
  9. Pruett KD. Fatherneed: Why Father Care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. 2000.
  10. Raising Children Network (RCN)} of Australia. Play and children with autism spectrum disorder. 2011 Jan 14 [accessed 2018 Jun 12]. http://raisingchildren.net.au/default.aspx
  11. Rosenberg J, Bradford Wilcox W. The Importance of Fathers In The Healthy Development of Children. 2006. doi:10.1037/e624452007-001
  12. Stewart by D. Using puppets in the preschool classroom | Teach Preschool. 2010 Feb 8 [accessed 2018 Jun 14]. https://teachpreschool.org/2010/02/08/using-puppets-in-the-preschool-classroom/
  14. Website. [accessed 2018 Jun 8]. http://aspe.hhs. gov/search/fatherhood/htdocs/pdf/nces-2001032.pdf.
  15. Website. [accessed 2018 Jun 12]. Fathers’ and mothers’ involvement in their children’s schools by family type and resident status Nord west http://aspe.hhs.gov/search/fatherhood/htdocs/pdf/nces-2001032.pdf.
  16. Yeung WJ, Jean Yeung W, Duncan GJ, Hill MS. Putting Fathers Back in the Picture. 2000;29(2-3):97–113.


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