It’s taken us a very long time to get to a point where the words “autism spectrum condition” form a part of our daily family lexicon. As I’ve described many times before, this had a lot to do with our definitely-not-neurotypical daughter, Goldilocks, showing certain traits that can only be described as being diametrically opposite to the ones on the many lists of “autism symptoms” we’d found.
Since then, we’ve discovered that the lists are wrong.
The lists describe what outsiders are able to observe. And no one can get into anyone else’s brain. Not ever. Not really.
So while an autistic child might appear not be communicating, or hearing, or seeing, or feeling, the opposite could very well be true. I suspect that it usually is.
One area where Goldilocks breaks the mould is empathy. Sometimes she lacks the words to express what she feels. And sometimes she really battles to grasp how another person can feel what they feel, when it is so very different to her feelings. Especially when the other person’s view appears to contradict plain common sense or good behaviour.
What she doesn’t lack, though, is the capacity to feel. Oh no. She feels deeply and completely. And she feels everything. The emotions consume her, and she lacks the ability to process them, sometimes. There’s simply so much to feel: her own feelings, the feelings of others, the thoughts those feelings give rise to, the judgements she senses or imagines … sometimes it’s just too much. Sometimes, we have melt downs.
When that happens, we sit quietly together, both facing the fear and soothing the fever, calmly talking about what frightens us and what makes us happy. I stroke her back or play with her hair or just hold her until the storm is passed.
When it’s over, the sunshine and bubbles are back. There’s mischief and joy and light. Balance is back. The cloud has gone. But the ability to feel? Nope. That never goes.
It’s not less. It’s so very much more.
When you’ve read this, please read this. An important piece on why our perspective of empathy matters.