Sunday, 18 January 2009
by Mama Elephant
Recent studies have shown that people with Autism lack empathy. Now I am all for research studies into Autism Spectrum Disorder but sometimes I feel like they create and perpetuate stereotypes. They can also be very discouraging for parents. Oddly, research indicating strengths and positive aspects of this baffling and expensive disorder is in short supply. I digress.
Four years ago, I was going through a very difficult time. My husband and I were separated and everything was upside down. Despite my greatest efforts, Junior came upon me crying one afternoon. He sat next to me, put his hand on my back and patted. Then he looked right at me and said, "It is okay, Mommy. I love you." He knew I was sad and he wanted to help me feel better. I had to wipe my tears, smile, and bestow as much affection as anyone can upon my darling son. (My husband and I did reconcile.)
Last week, his teacher described an event that took place during a field trip. Junior witnessed one of his classmates having a melt down. The other student began to cry and hit his head. This self injurious behavior is not uncommon among those with Autism. It is very heartbreaking to anyone who works with or cares for and loves an autist. Apparently it was heartbreaking for Junior to witness as well. He put his hands up in the air (his hand motion for "stop") and said, "No no no no. Hurt hurt hurt hurt." When his classmate did not calm down, Junior began to cry as well. Junior was saddened by what he saw. He did not want his classmate to be sad or to hurt himself. If that isn't empathy, I don't know what is.
Of course, hearing the story made me feel sad. I really do not like for Junior to be sad or afraid. At the same time, I was so proud. There was my son, wanting to help someone else. For someone like me, who lives and breathes to help others...there are few things sweeter than feeling like I may have passed that trait on to my child. The fact that this trait is supposed to be rare in those with Autism just made it that much more grand.
This is not the first time my son has broken the molds set forth by researchers. He accepts changes in routine with little or no fuss. He is social, it just takes longer for him to warm up to people. He forms relationships and misses people that he likes when they are absent from his life.
Perhaps researchers have it wrong. Or, maybe my son just likes to show people that they are wrong about him and what he can or cannot do. If so, he definitely gets that from me and once again...I couldn't be more proud. I eagerly encourage him and look forward to watching him break more molds, one by one.