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.