Yesterday we were supposed to take my mom to drop her car off to be fixed. Against her better judgement she did not call to see if they were open. They were closed, on a Thursday…odd…and previously they had told her not to bother to call, “just hop on by.” We got back home and my mom was in a panic. Her plan had been derailed, she was freaking out about her car, the noise was too much for her, and it was causing her major sensory overload. I was ready for her just to leave because she couldn’t calm down and it seemed at that point the best thing for her was to go home, but Daniel grabbed her hand and told her that she had to come inside.
My mom just wanted to go home. She was very upset.
Daniel, with his charm, pulled her into the house and sat her down on the couch. He sat with her, holding her hand. My mom was still panicky and having anxiety. I just talked to her and told her how we could do it tomorrow, and that everything would be fine. And slowly you could see her become calm. Daniel, still holding her hand, was smiling at her, talking to her a little bit about his glitter globe, and looking at her. I have to share at this point that prior to my mom’s arrival, Daniel had been in a full-blown meltdown and wrestling me because his headphones would not work in his computer, and he didn’t understand my many futile attempts to fix it. It is still not fixed. I guess the drive helped a bit, and then when we got home he could tell that Grammy was very upset.
There were other factors that led to my mom’s moment.
She felt bad for feeling as if she had wasted my time and gas. She had not eaten or taken her scheduled nap that she normally takes and she was all geared up to get her car fixed. All of these factors caused her anxiety, and Daniel felt it. He then took her into one of the bedrooms to play with his toys and continued to try to comfort her; at one point, he even rubbed her back. Since she had not eaten, I got her some food and water to help her calm, and Daniel came and sat with us at the table. He ate the same thing as her and told her that he was eating it, too. While we sat there, he would look at her and smile and then go about his business. When he felt that she was calm, he got up and left, and that was that. He used several of his own coping mechanisms to try to help her.
I had not noticed Daniel displaying this type of behavior before.
But the thing is I hadn’t been looking either. I have no idea how many times Daniel has felt empathy and tried to bring comfort to others. His ways are different at times, though yesterday, he showed some pretty telling sympathetic behaviors. I wonder what other ways he has tried to show us that he is feeling us. I know that for me, I do things, like send silly pictures or start acting goofy with people when I feel something. I will give a small gift or just sit with someone. I don’t have the right words most times unless I can write them out, and I don’t do hugs well, but I can listen. I am a good listener and observer of needs. So another way that I show empathy is by paying attention to what makes people happy, such as a book, a song, a poem, or just tell them that I am thinking of them. I used to give things that I liked, at times I still do, thinking that they would enjoy it as much as me.
Daniel reminded me that I tend to compartmentalize ideals about certain things.
I guess empathy would be one that I have had a script for that I didn’t realize, or I tend to only remember my failed attempts at it. I do have successful times as well. Later in the evening, Daniel was reading a book, and he came up to me asking questions like “What is she feeling?” and “Is he sad or mad?” Something happened yesterday when he felt my mom’s emotions and was able to comfort her, because he has been asking me all day about what people are feeling and why. It made me realize that my many questions that I ask are from the heart of trying to have empathy. Elaina left this comment on my last post where I referred to myself saying that I didn’t ask questions because of empathy “I have spent time trying to understand and it has come from a place of empathy. I know you said it didn’t for you but, I wonder if you thought about it some more you might realize it did? Idk I don’t want to presume but, I think the desire to understand where others are coming from is empathetic.”
After thinking about it more and watching Daniel, I believe it is true.
I will feel a persons emotions but will not know how to comfort them or show empathy the way they need, so I start to ask questions. I have learned that what helps me does not help others. Many times my efforts have not been received well because the person felt I was being insensitive. A prime example was when my sister was getting married, and I was unable to go to the wedding. I did not call her because I felt I would be intrusive, and I knew that she had a lot going on. I did not want to bother her with a phone call while she was trying to get prepared for her big day. I later discovered that she wanted to hear my voice, she wanted to hear that I cared and that I was sorry that I was unable to make it. I didn’t understand why she was upset with me and hurt.
I now understand why she was upset.
But I only discovered that because I asked her. She was acting funny over email and saying odd things on Facebook. I didn’t understand her behavior so I asked her if she was angry with me. We talked it out, and I apologized for not contacting her. That was an example of me imagining myself in her situation; for me, I would not want a phone call. I would have been upset had she called me when I was under such stress. I have learned over the years to ask questions when I do not understand how to empathize or to comfort. I find it interesting that Daniel is connecting that way as well. Again I have learned a lesson. I need to remember my ways of showing empathy and understand are not wrong.
And also stay attuned to others around me and their way of needing/expressing empathy.
It is also a bit interesting to me that this has come up when there are several posts that I have seen about autism and empathy, but I have not had the chance to read them. I am looking forward to see what others have to say on the topic, and hopefully gain more understanding and perspective with all of this. I am really happy to have witnessed and paid attention to how Daniel knew how to respond to my mother. I was ready for her just to go home. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I mean I really could not help her and thought the best thing for her was to go home. Daniel knew what she needed and I think I should keep in mind what he did for her, because possibly that is how he wants to be comforted many times.
Funny thing is I can totally relate. Sometimes the best way to comfort me is to just sit with me.
About the Author: Angelique is a 38-year-old wife and mother of three. She loves to write, read, and learn; and she enjoyes music, laughing as much as possible and dancing wherever she is without a thought. Her six-year-old son Daniel is on the autism spectrum and is now considered high functioning. Angelique, her husband, and their two other children all show autism traits. Daniel, Me, and Empathy appeared on her blog, Mind Retrofit, and is reprinted here by permission.