Monday, October 28, 2013

Autism, empathy, and understanding

The other day, Bud was doing something I didn't want him to do - something I've told him a million times not to do, but something he just keeps doing anyway.  I intervened and redirected, and I tried to make it clear to him, once and for all, that this was important.

"BUD!" I said sharply. "I mean it."

"You're angry, Mom?" he asked half-heartedly, barely glancing in my direction.

"Yes, Bud," I urged.  "I'm angry.  Look at my face."

"Look at my face" is a phrase I use with Bud, not to request that he make eye contact, but to remind him that there are visual cues in peoples' faces - cues that will help him understand what's happening and help him determine what to do next.

Bud turned and searched my face.

"You're not angry, Mom," he said.  "You're sad."

I knew in an instant that he was right.  He watched as it registered on my face.

"Why are you sad?" he asked.

And then the conversation turned in a whole new direction.

I'm tired of reading that children with autism lack empathy.  I'm tired of hearing that they have a compromised ability to understand that someone else's experience of the world is different from their own.

With one look at my face, Bud recognized something I hadn't.  I'd been labeling my emotion, even to myself, as anger - perhaps because anger seemed easier to manage and easier to resolve. But though it was emerging in harsh tones and barked words, at its heart, what I was experiencing wasn't anger.  It was resignation.  Defeat.  Sadness.

I'll remember this exchange the next time I read about what children with autism can't do.  Because this child?  The one with the disability that compromises his capacity to understand - or even want to understand - others?

Sometimes he knows me better than I know myself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yes, really

I wish I were cool enough to be nonchalant and just casually drop this into conversation, but I'm not.  Not at all.  Not even a little bit.  So here it is:

I'm in the Huffington Post.

I was invited to submit a piece for last week's TED Weekends series, the theme of which was "What We Can Learn From Gifted Minds."  I submitted and they accepted, and suddenly, there's my smiling face under the HuffPo banner.

I'm positively giddy.

I would have posted about it here sooner, but I've spent all week refreshing the page to make sure it's still up.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I feared that someone from the editorial staff would stumble upon it and say, "What is this doing here?"  But so far, so good.

For those who are fans of my Facebook page, thanks for celebrating with me this week.  It has been a lot of fun.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Growing up

Bud and I are going to stay with friends for the weekend.  They are teenage friends - 17 and 13 - whose dad will be out of town.  They don't need supervision, but we're going to keep them company.

I explained the plan to Bud last night.

"We're going to take care of them?" he asked.

"No," I said.  "They're old enough to stay by themselves.  We're just going to spend time with them."

"They're old enough to stay by themselves?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered.

"But I'm not old enough to stay by myself?" he asked.

It wasn't a challenge, but it stopped me in my tracks.  Bud is older than the younger of our friends. But, developmentally - well, no.  He's not old enough to stay by himself.

This is a brand new dynamic - this comparing himself to others.  It has only started emerging in the past couple of months.  It's an important developmental step, I know - and yet, it makes situations like this much trickier than they've been in the past.

"Well, you like to have someone stay with you, don't you?" I asked.

"Like who?" he countered.

I started naming favorite sitters.  "Like Cally," I said. "Or Ashley.  Or Amelia.  Or me!"

"Or you?" he asked.

"Yeah, me!" I cheered.  "I love staying with you."

"Aw, thanks, Mom," he said, leaning over to hug me.

And that was that.  The issue was resolved.  For now.  But it still feels like we've crossed an invisible threshold.  I think we've officially entered the next stage of development.

I just hope I'm ready for it.