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.



3 thoughts on “Woodjie, Autism, and Empathy

  1. Madmother says:

    I hear ya! I have a now 14 year old who is the kindest, most helpful teenager around!

  2. Wow…you got posted on Autism and Empathy with Rachel Cohen Rottenberg, didn’t you? This is a sweet story.

  3. Many thanks, Rachel, for including my post!

    Madmother, I sure hope his personality never changes! Only imagine, the doctor thinks he will be at least 6ft. 4. His teen brothers are 6ft 3 1/2 and 6ft 1, so not a stretch. Having tall people lift stuff for me is a real blessing, as I now have lifting restrictions, too… 🙂

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