Empathy

by Carrie Cooling

image by smlp.co.uk

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

It’s been long believed that people with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t have empathy. There are numerous articles that have stated this and, more recently, some that counter this claim.

As someone with Asperger’s, I can assure you that I most definitely experience empathy. Every Aspie I know experiences empathy. It is my belief, and that of my Aspie friends and colleagues, that we experience others’ emotions to a much greater degree than a non-autistic individual.

When my husband comes into a room, Mateo and I hold our breath. Tim is a very emotional, high-energy individual, and we feel it very, very intensely. It’s often overwhelming and, depending on the level of sensory input, I try to hide for a few minutes. However, I often find myself pushing my limits just to make sure everyone else’s needs have been met, because having familial responsibilities means I don’t always have the luxury of centering myself at that exact moment.

When I’m being sympathetic to someone’s plight, I will be very factual and non-emotional in my response. Please don’t mistake this for not having empathy. I respond that way because I feel their emotions very deeply and, if I don’t control them within myself, I run the risk of being drawn into their emotional state. I can’t afford to do that because doing so will affect my entire day, probably the next one, and possibly the whole week.

We do feel empathy. It’s okay to teach your child appropriate responses to someone in an emotional state, but please don’t think we aren’t empathetic.

About the Author: Carrie Cooling is a mom with Asperger’s Syndrome. She has three children: one diagnosed with Asperger’s, one with borderline Asperger’s, and one who is heteristic. (For a definition of heteristic, see her blog post here.) Empathy first appeared on her blog, Parenting with Asperger’s Syndrome, and is reprinted here by permission.

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People in Glass Houses

by Jean

Y’know, I think we’ve got it all wrong with our autie kids.

We are taught to view their supposed lack of social empathy as a Bad Thing.

Many of us are locked in an endless battle with our kids to extinguish  undesirable behaviours that make life difficult, embarrassing, or inconvenient  for us, but which the children themselves have no issue with.

But to what end?

Bob is perfectly happy to play the opening credits of  a film over and over (and over), and I have to overcome my itch to force him out of his Happy Place to watch the film “normally.”

Why do we accept that we are supposed to train them, like little performing seals, to tick boxes on a psychology chart? It shouldn’t even occur to me to want to change his behaviour just because it makes me uncomfortable, and because I want him to be more like other kids.  It’s actually deeply disrespectful of who he is.

He has no qualms about thrashing about like a small (but ridiculously handsome) rhino when he feels caged in a situation that he’s unhappy in.  My initial reaction to this is sometimes embarrassment, but mostly I just wish I could express myself as freely.  I have wasted so many hours of my life being bored into a coma at mandatory social occasions, and it would be wonderful to throw a tantrum and to scream, “Screw you, I’m outta here!!!”

And maybe to strip off while I’m at it.

Also, it’s a bit rich that I’m teaching Bob how to be “socially appropriate” when I bolt for cover at the mere whisper of a party …and when I’ve just replaced my perfectly respectable hallway light with a creation that can only be described as a purple, glittery disco-ball. (1970’s, how are ya?)  I could teach Elton John a thing or two about  left of centre garishness, but that’s who I am, and I feel free to express myself in my own home.

Bob is allowed to do the same.

But it occurred to me that this lack of social awareness could be a gift that allows the child to focus on what’s really important, without being imprisoned by worries about what the neighbours think.

That’s the X Factor that has allowed scientists to shine fiercely and artists to produce magnificent masterpieces. They simply weren’t concerned with who complied with what social rule.  They just got on with what they were good at.

By interfering with Bob’s Happy Place, I could very well be damaging his development. So I don’t do it.

That’s not to say he has a free rein to engage in whatever behaviour pleases him whenever he feels the urge. I may be the youngest hippie in town, but I also don’t want to spend my pension fund bailing him out of prison for lewd behaviour.  And he is made to do his homework under strenuous protest, because he is bursting with potential, and I would be letting him down by not pressing his gorgeous little nose to the educational grindstone.

So I won’t throw stones about not getting the social appropriateness thing. I’m living in a creaky old glass house of my own, but it has a really funky hallway light, so I like it fine the way it is.

About the Author: Jean describes herself as “an ordinary mum of 3 great kids, whose life became extraordinary when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.” This piece first appeared on her blog, Planet Autism, and is reprinted here by permission.

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Play to Talk: Communicating Empathy

by Pia

I will confess, here and now, that I am a newbie to the Communicating Partners/Play to Talk approach for increasing interaction and communication.  So recognize that I am by far not an expert, and take what I have been doing with a grain of salt.  I would recommend, however, that if you have real interest in learning more, join and check out the Communicating Partners Yahoo Group.  The admin there frequently posts different essays about these techniques that have been very helpful.  Plus, it is just a great, supportive group.

(Note:  Everything I talk about today comes from the Yahoo Group and Play to Talk by Dr. MacDonald.  All credit to him!)

First I will talk about the fundamental premise of this whole approach:  Entering the child’s world.  And let me tell you, it is easier said than done.  All children (especially children with communication problems) live in a world of sensation and action.  We adults live in a world of thought and language.  We cannot successfully bring our children into our world without first entering their world.  Children (all children) build understanding through their ability to accurately sense the world around them and to physically act upon those sensations.  That is the foundation of our cognitive “house.” Children with developmental delays often have issues with both their sensory processing and their ability to respond to those sensations.  Their sensory world is confusing, disorganized, and inconsistent.  Therefore, the idea is for you to become a guide who goes from our adult world, enters their child world, finds a way to interact with the child in a way the child can understand, and then gradually brings them into our world by being an accessible, fun, and interesting partner.

Too wordy? Whew…

So, there are five core strategies to get into your child’s world.  They are as follows (directly from Dr MacDonald):

1. Balance. Do only as much as the child, and then wait with the expectation for him to take a turn. (And sometimes the waiting can feel like forever. Take ANY behavior, sound, etc. to be a turn at first.)

2. Match. Act and communicate in ways the child can do now. Don’t speak in sentences if your child only has single words.

3. Respond to the child’s actions and communications rather than always telling him what to do.  (Don’t teach. Be a play partner.)

4. Share control. Be sure each of you leads half the time, and try to reduce your questions so you do more of showing him a next step.  (Questions require answers.  That seems too much like work to me, too.)

5. Be playful and emotionally attached. Make the interactions fun and interesting for the child.  Enjoy what he enjoys!

So, here is an actual, real, honest interaction I had with J-man that is an example of these techniques.  I posted it on the Communicating Partners site as a “Funny Story,” and a member (Carolyn) provided me with the wonderful analysis on how it was a great example of this approach.

THE FUNNY STORY:

So, last night, while making dinner, I accidentally splashed boiling water on my naked foot. (That is not the funny part.) So, as you can imagine, I am in a bit of pain, and on the floor of the kitchen with a cold washcloth on my foot. J-man comes in and sees my grimace and gets a little worried and upset. I told him “mommy oiwee, hurt.” He touched my furrowed brow and my grimace, made his own grimacey face, and then he took both of his hands, put them on my cheeks, pushed my cheeks up and told me “mile!” (smile).

Of course, at that I DID. (Smiled, that is.)

Then I grimaced again (on purpose), and he pushed my cheeks up again and said “No, no. MILE!” We did this a few more times. It became a little game.

And here is Carolyn’s response:

The loveliest thing about the story is how your son showed empathy…how very much connected you two were with each other…a beautiful thing and the central key to a relationship, in my opinion!   The story also beautifully illustrates all of the CP strategies!

Matching: You matched your son from the start. After noticing his concern, many moms would have said something like this: “Oh, J-man, Mommy hurt her foot. I spilled HOT water on my foot, and it burned my foot, and it felt really bad! Thank you so much for your concern. Here, come give me a big hug and kiss to help Mommy feel better…” Your son probably would have been able to understand everything you said, but it would have been way too much for him to say himself. Instead, you used his language and simply said, “mommy oiwee, hurt.” Then, for the remainder of the interaction, you continued doing and saying things that he could do or say, making the interaction both possible and meaningful to him.

Balancing: This was obviously a “textbook” illustration of balance in action! You each did and said about as much as the other, going back and forth for several turns. Fabulous!

Sharing Control: Again, a beautiful example of this strategy, with neither one of you taking over the conversation. It would have been very easy for either of you to have dominated the interaction, either you as the “victim” or him as the one giving you consolation.

Being Emotionally Playful: You two turned a “tragic” event into a fun game that got you both smiling! And all of us along with you!

Sensitive Responsiveness: You sensitively responded to your son’s communications, beginning with your response to his concern. And even though these strategies are supposed to be the “adult” strategies that we can all use to help our children become better communicators, your son was using this strategy beautifully with you, sensitively responding to your pain! Very sweet.

It seems simple, but it isn’t.  Not at first.  But the rewards are very sweet.

About the Author: Pia is the mother of J-man, a boy on the autism spectrum. She describes herself as “a fierce protector, fiery advocate, and in desperate need of a nap.” She has a PhD in Developmental Psychology and works as a NICU nurse. This piece fist appeared on her blog, The Crack and the Light, is reprinted here by permission.

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The Thing He’d Never Do

by Outrunning the Storm

1.

Tommy had a friend over the other day.  They played together in the play room, while I kept Charlie occupied elsewhere.  When I heard an excessive amount of giggling from the boys, force of habit sent me in to check on the source.

Upon questioning, the boys gleefully divulged they were making jokes about Charlie, because he is weird and they don’t like him.

2.

The first time I ever saw Charlie show aggression towards another child he was three. We were in a public play area. Tommy was quietly digging with a shovel in the sand, while Charlie collected leaves. An older boy, maybe 6, took Tommy’s shovel away from him and began to walk off. Charlie sprung up, grabbed the shovel from the boy, and whacked him with it several times shouting “you not to Tommy, you not to Tommy.” He then calmly walked over and handed the shovel back to his brother, before returning to his leaf collecting.

Shovel
Image via Wikipedia

3.

Charlie was invited to a preschool classmate’s birthday party last spring. While he has enviously watched his brother head off to many such occasions, this was the first time he was actually invited on his own to a party. He was saddened when he realized his brother couldn’t go as well.

When he returned he handed his brother some squished cake wrapped in a napkin and his goody bag he had saved for him because “it would be like Tommy had gotten to go.”

4.

Mommy?

Yes, Charlie.

When I grow up am I still going to live with Tommy?

If you guys want to, my love. Why?

Because he is my best friend and I love him and you said when we grow up that is who we will want to live with.

5.

I have a brother, two years older than me. He has a PhD in bio-chemistry and a law degree. He is an accomplished violinist and sails competitively, yet has never had a significant relationship in his life.

As a kid, I was embarrassed by his social fumblings. I eventually gave up trying to coach him and became angry that he didn’t try harder to please people and make friends. I resented being associated with him and the damage I felt he did to my social status. Time after time when the occasion arose to stand up for my brother, I instead chose to join in the teasing in the hope that I wouldn’t be dragged down with him.

It pains me to admit those things. I so wish it weren’t true.

I wish, instead, I had understood a lack of skill is not a lack of will.

I wish had understood that over the years the shame of turning your back on someone in need, someone who loves you, weighs heavier than the memory of any party I wasn’t invited to or date I was not asked out on.

In the end, I just wish that I had understood.

6.

When his friend had gone, I sat Tommy down and told him this.

I know that things with your brother have not always been easy for you. The way he has treated you has not always felt kind. But there is one thing I know he would never do.

He would never allow someone to laugh at you and still call them a friend.

One day I hope you will understand what a treasure that is.

About the Author: Outrunning the Storm is the mother of twin boys, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. This piece first appeared on her blog, Outrunning the Storm, and is reprinted here by permission.

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Saving a Theory, Dismissing Its Subjects

by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

I’ve been spending the weekend putting together my preliminary research questions and a working bibliography for my graduate program. To my great surprise, I’ve actually been able to read some of the blazingly unempathetic papers about our supposed lack of empathy without spluttering in a fit of moral outrage every five minutes. I call that progress. In fact, I read several articles and found myself able to critique the problems in them rather effortlessly. I credit this development to two things: a) the critical theory I’ve been reading, which helps me to see the larger issues of power and privilege that weave themselves throughout the literature and b) my support network of over 40 people I can call on when the going gets tough.

And then, I read a 2004 article by Uta Frith, and I moved away from my stance of critical detachment toward one of absolute moral outrage.

There I was, enjoying a quiet day at home, reading by the woodstove, minding my own business, and wanting nothing more than to have an enjoyably uneventful time, when I stumbled upon the following piece of remarkably nuanced thinking and stellar prose in Frith’s Emanuel Miller lecture: Confusions and controversies about Asperger syndrome:

“One way to describe the social impairment in Asperger syndrome is as an extreme form of egocentrism with the resulting lack of consideration for others.” (Frith 676)

Don’t you just love when these kinds of prejudicial statements rise up and punch you in the gut? I know I do. It’s just so much fun to read about myself in these terms. You have no idea. And what makes it all the more fun is that the irony of the statement is entirely lost on the writer. She engages in a prejudicial generalization about an entire group of people (otherwise known as a stereotype) and, in the same breath, tells us that we’re the ones with a “lack of consideration for others.”

And here I thought it was autistic people who couldn’t understand irony.

Now, you might not think it could get worse, but that’s because you haven’t read a lot of papers on autism and theory of mind. As it turns out, not only are we egocentric, but we’re unlike those “normal selfish” people who can use egocentrism to their advantage. At least, with them, someone gets something out of it, right? But with us — well, we just can’t help ourselves:

“The self-absorption and disregard of others is not like the strategy that a normal selfish person might deliberately adopt and flexibly use according to what is currently in his or her best interest. Autistic egocentrism, by contrast, appears to be non-deliberate and not determined by what might currently be in the best interest of the individual.” (Frith 676)

In other words, nature has made us selfish. We were just born that way. It’s taken us over and it’s out of our control.

And guess what happens once you peg a whole group of people as being egocentric and selfish? Everything becomes our fault. All the problems in our personal relationships? All our fault! All the problems in our social world? All our fault! You don’t believe me? Read on, my brothers and sisters:

“This egocentrism seems to present a huge difficulty in forming successful long-term interpersonal relationships. Spouses and family members can experience bitter frustration and distress. They are baffled by the fact that there is no mutual sharing of feelings, even when the Asperger individual in question is highly articulate.” (Frith 676)

Yes, you heard it here. We cause people “bitter frustration and distress.” Of course, they do not cause us “bitter frustration and distress.” No. Never. Just doesn’t happen. If we feel “bitter frustration and distress,” it’s all our damned fault for being so, you know, abnormal. If we were only normal, we wouldn’t feel frustrated and distressed. Problem solved!

And, of course, it’s absolutely UNHEARD OF to find a neurotypical person who has difficulty expressing his or her feelings. It just doesn’t happen. Those men I dated and broke up with because I couldn’t get them to articulate a feeling to save their lives? I must have misunderstood where they were coming from. When they were telling me I was hormonal — or refusing to speak altogether — I guess their body language was actually saying, “Yes, honey, I understand and am awash in feeling.”

But of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that, because apparently, I’m just not able to imagine what other people might be thinking. Or so says the author:

“One obstacle seems to be an inability on the part of the person with Asperger syndrome to put themselves into another person’s shoes and to imagine what their own actions look like and feel like from another person’s point of view. Another way to describe the social impairment is as a failure of empathy, involving a poor ability to be in tune with the feelings of other people.” (Frith 676)

I’ve just spent the weekend going through dozens and dozens of articles, and these kinds of statements keep coming up, over and over and over. I can only conclude that the researchers are perseverating on a theme. And I don’t mean for a day, or a week, or a month, but for years and years and years. It’s incredible. You’d think they’d be more flexible and want some change — a broadening of perspective, so to speak — instead of this incessant sameness.

But you know what happens when you try to separate a person from his or her perseverations? It’s not a happy moment. Witness then, the way that the author responds to the fact that autistic people have been writing self-reflective narratives for some time. In a section whose title, “Listening to people with Asperger syndrome,” should really have been “Dismissing people with Asperger syndrome” (or did I miss the intentional irony?), the author makes the following assertions regarding people with Asperger’s who see themselves as having a different experience of the world and a unique perspective on life, rather than being a collection of deficits:

“Researchers and clinicians can agree with this to some extent. However, they may point out that a peculiar lack of insight and an egocentric viewpoint are typical of the syndrome, throwing doubt on at least some of the self-assessments of needs and expectations.” (Frith 681)

In other words, the “experts” have determined that we lack insight and suffer from egocentricism, so whatever we say about our own desires, our own needs, our own experiences, and our own expectations of other people is suspect. Got that? If that’s not a perfect formula for disempowering hundreds of thousands of autistic people, I don’t know what is. And it very neatly closes off the potential for measuring the external validity of the research findings, too.

But, of course, those of us who reflect upon ourselves and others in insightful ways probably don’t have Asperger’s anyway:

“One problem with the autobiographical literature is that the authenticity of the diagnosis is not guaranteed” (Frith 681-682).

Will people ever get tired of the perseverative need to keep saying this? Would it be possible for them to just walk in our shoes and say, “Oh, I see. Now I understand. Thank you for providing a reality check on my lab tests”? Would that really be so terribly difficult?

But the zeal to save a theory from the clutches of reality does not simply extend to talking about our inherent egocentricism and casting doubt on our diagnoses. Oh no. It moves into misinterpretations so extreme that they beggar belief. Take, for example, the following:

“The autobiographies of individuals with Asperger syndrome indicate a high degree of retrospective self-analysis that came with adulthood. This can be seen, for instance, in Gunilla Gerland’s autobiography (1997) and in Clare Sainsbury’s collection of over twenty individuals’ reminiscences of their school years (2000). These works suggest that self-knowledge and sharing of knowledge with others was poor in childhood.” (Frith 683)

So, let’s get this straight: Because we now look back on our childhoods and understand things that weren’t clear before, that in itself is evidence that we lacked self-knowledge and understanding of others as children. Of course, the questions that jump immediately to mind are the following: What self-reflective adult doesn’t look back on childhood and understand things that were opaque before? And what small child understands things the same way as an adult? When non-autistic people look back, reinterpret, and reweave the stories of their lives in narrative form, we laud them for being mature, creative, and insightful. But when autistic people look back, reinterpret, and reweave the stories of our lives in narrative form, we’re told it’s evidence that we lacked theory of mind in childhood.

Not too much confirmation bias there.

But the theory must be saved. Oh, yes. And its subjects must be dismissed.

Source

Frith, Uta. “Emanuel Miller lecture: Confusions and controversies about Asperger syndrome.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, no. 4 (May 2004): 672-686. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00262.x.

About the Author: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg is a wife, mother, writer, and artist. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 50. This piece first appeared on her blog, Journeys with Autism.

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Ladybugs: Autism, Empathy, and Processing Grief

by Leah Kelley

As a parent of a child with autism and as a teacher, I have a difficulty when others report that students with ASD lack empathy.I try to correct this faulty judgment when I have the opportunity to do so, by explaining that there really is not lack of empathy, nor any absence of the ability to feel this. There may however be a different way of processing or expressing the feeling, and also a challenge with understanding the perspective and therefore the experience of others. This is fundamentally different from the judgment that an individual lacks the capacity for empathy.

My son H has recently begun to process grief. It hit him hard at age 10 when his Behaviour Interventionist Roberta’s dog was sick and dying. It hit him all at once. He did not seem process it at two when his great-grandma died, or at 5 when our guinea pig died, or at 6 when his rabbit died, or at 8 when his other great-grandma died. He was somehow not visibly affected. He did not ask about it and he may have cried a few tears… but then it was basically never mentioned again. I realize, in retrospect, that there was likely much more going on that I did not at the time understand – but this post does not explore these complexities. Instead it tells a different story; the story of the grief and processing that was apparent much later.

H was devastated by the news that Roberta’s dog, Boomer, was dying and generously gave the dog one of his own stuffies to comfort him. When I suggested that he might like the stuffed bear back after Boomer had passed away, he said no – it would be for Roberta to keep… so that she would have the teddy to cuddle if she was lonely when she no longer had her dog.

I talked to a number of our school district counselors and all suggested that it was important for him to let his tears come so we spent many an evening with H in tears. We encouraged him to cry and we also started him seeing a counselor privately to assist him with processing his emotions.

Shortly after this we had to tell him that our neighbour, Mrs. L, was also dying. I didn’t really want to because he seemed so fragile and I knew he would be further devastated. We again welcomed his tears and his many questions. I noticed that he was looking to me to see if I was crying when he was, and he often asked if I was sad too. We reinforced that it was important to let his sadness come and cry his tears, or else his sadness may come out in other ways, such as anger.

In retrospect, one of the things we encouraged that proved to be most helpful was to be giving toward others and to work to comfort them and understand that they were grieving as well. His focus on the perspective of others helped him to move the process along for himself and to feel that he had some power. He couldn’t change the circumstances, but he was empowered by his ability to give to others.

Interestingly, we found that he seemed most anxious and concerned about how he would remember those he had lost. He seemed aware of his own challenges with episodic memory and we began to build and revisit the memories he had by telling stories of the dog and our neighbour and also the kindness he was showing in the process.

I wrote a story for him that recalled his experiences with our neighbour, Mrs. L, and his visit to her in the hospital, during which he read her the story Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present. I assisted him in writing his own lists based on the book The Tenth Best Thing About Barney, which he was able to share as well. He showed his appreciation for others and it gave his feeling of loss a place to be… surrounded by other feelings.

I also worked with him to associate memories with real items in a meaningful way for those he was losing. He subsequently began to create memory symbols for those he had lost long, long ago and to have tears for them as well. A ladybug came to represent our neighbour, and a goldfish represented his great-grandmother who passed away when he was 2. This might be best explained with an excerpt of the story I wrote for him:

That same day when H’s mom was working in the garden, she called him outside. She showed him a little ladybug that she had found… the first ladybug of spring.

She said, “H, I want you to hold this ladybug. Look at it. Isn’t it beautiful?”

H held out his hand and the little creature climbed up his fingers.

“Do you like it?” his mom asked.

“Yes” H responded.

“Can you keep it forever?”

“No…” H replied.

“That’s right…” said his mom. “You can hold it for a short time, and you can enjoy how beautiful it is. You can’t keep it forever… but you can remember this moment…

H looked at his mom and then looked again at the ladybug.

“The ladybug is like Mrs. L We can’t keep her forever, and now she has to fly away home… just like a ladybug. What we get to keep is how wonderful it was to know her while she was here and we can hold her memory in our hearts forever.”

H’s mom smiled at him… and he smiled back to her.

She said, “We are lucky… whenever we see a ladybug in the garden now we will think of Mrs. L. We have a connection to a sweet memory.”

We manually created and inserted the physical association with a concrete item to assist him with sorting and organizing his memories. The symbols that represented different people seemed to assist him with feeling that he had something to hang onto and a place to revisit and access his memories and to process his sadness. It gave him a sense of control.

Last week H’s other great-grandmother passed away. She was 103 years old and had been suffering from dementia for many years. Even though he had only met her as a baby, he was still upset when we told him of her passing. However, he seemed most upset that he didn’t really know her, so my husband and I began to tell him stories of his great-grandmother and we assisted H in writing them down.

This week H read these stories aloud at the memorial. This was an amazing gift and tribute because after many years of needing constant care and not being socially present in the lives of those attending, this little boy brought to the fore the memories of his great-grandma at her best. It was touching to see the shift in the mood as he brought her to life once again in their minds.

This little boy of mine has a very big heart, and a lot of strength. He has a huge capacity for empathy. He just needed a framework of support to assist him with processing in a slightly different way.

About the Author: Leah Kelley is a K–12 Special Needs Resource Teacher, a parent of a child with ASD, and an experienced primary teacher who blogs at Thirty Days of Autism. She completed her Master’s Degree in Education at Simon Fraser University, focusing on supporting educators in understanding the experience of students with autism.

Please Note: This article, originally written in 2009, was previously published as Ladybugs in the Spring 2011 edition of the Journal English Practice (the journal of the BC Teachers of English Language Arts), and has also been featured on the POPARD Website (Provincial Outreach Program for Autism and Related Disorders). It appears on the Autism and Empathy site by permission of the author.

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Woodjie, Autism, and Empathy

by Happy Elf Mom

Maybe you’ve never met Woodjie.  Most people just love him because he’s so friendly and extroverted.  Fancy that — an autistic extrovert.  Seriously, he is.  He also has a lot of empathy for people when they are sad or hurt, or when things aren’t going well.  Mind you, he is definitely a little behind-hand on the talking and the understanding thing, and he doesn’t understand a lot of the “why” in social situations, or “why” someone is sad or feelings are hurt.  And unless something is pretty obvious, he’s not going to respond to your feelings or tone.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care!  Once he figures out someone needs something, he’s actually more likely to respond with kindness and concern than your average person.

I’ve had several requests to see the “pirates,” what he calls the gash from my recent hernia surgery.  I think it’s kind of scary to him that Mom got hurt like that.  Mom can’t let him on her lap and pick him up for “baby wuv” time.  After a rough start, he has adjusted pretty well.  Now, he will explain, “I huck I tiss you.  Then I play!” instead of automatically climbing onto my lap.  I think I am having a harder time adjusting than he is.  It’s just un-natural not to be able to pick up small hugging children.  Just wrong.  Sure, he threw about 1000 temper fits about it at first, but now he has adjusted.  I never threw serious screaming temper fits about it… and I have not.  Go figure.

I think right now, what he understands is that Mom needs him. If I throw something into the trash but barely miss, I pretty much can’t pick it up off the floor.  Woodjie is cute and hard to direct often, and 99% of the time it’s just easier to do everything myself.  But right now?  It isn’t.  So when I see a friendly fluffy blonde kid bouncing about and declaring, “I hep a YOU, Momma?” I put him to work.

It’s genuinely helpful to have the little guy pick up my trash and throw it out when I miss, or open a cabinet, or get laundry into/out of the dryer.  Oh, I really need help with that.  Basically anything that has to do with squatting or bending down is still hard to do.  The trouble comes when I have no little easy jobs for him to do.  He still wants to help.  I am going to admit to having the kid put washcloths away one at a time so that he will be occupied whilst I fold the other laundry.  Or have him run each item to a different basket instead of throwing it in myself.

This little guy has a lot of empathy.  He’s really sweet.  I think sometimes people who don’t know many autistic people mistake the disability around understanding when someone needs some empathy with the willingness to give it.  Woodjie loves to help people out when he sees a need for it.  Everyone who has ever been to a doctor’s office at the same time as our family knows how very important it is to Woodjie that you have a magazine to read.  You don’t want this magazine?  He’ll pick a different one.  And another and another, until you declare that WOW, you really like this magazine, thanks!

It’s just what you needed.  You just didn’t know it when you walked in the door.

About the Author: Happy Elf Mom is a homeschooling mom to six children, including four on the autism spectrum. This piece first appeared on her blog, Homeschool and Etc., and is reprinted by permission.

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