April 27th: Autism has taught me that sometimes what is meant is hidden deep within what is said.
“Oh, I’m very glad to meet you today.”
“My stomach feels sickish. It has butterflies.”
“I’ll never see daddy again.”
These phrases might mean something to you. They may suggest a certain tone of voice, a certain idea. To you, they mean one thing. To me, they may say another. I read these three simple statements and see:
“I’m glad we can play together today.”
“I’m so excited.”
“I really miss daddy.”
Having a child with autism means you have to relearn the English language. This may not always be the case, but in my experience, common words and phrases can have a multitude of meanings and finding the right one isn’t always easy. One morning, while living in VA last year, I remember a prime example of this concept. J came home from work for lunch and K tells him, “Mommy’s soda was red like blood and it made her sick.” This, of course, both confused and worried him. I had to explain that I had left a cherry coke sit out overnight. Not thinking about it, I took a big sip through the straw when I got up that morning. The cherry syrup had separated from the soda and as a result of being more dense had settled to the bottom of the Styrofoam cup. After taking the sip, I began to cough because the flavor and texture had caught me off guard. So, I took a sip of cherry syrup through a straw and coughed immediately afterwards, but what J heard was “Mommy’s soda was red like blood and it made her sick.”
When K misses someone or something, she “never sees ____ again”. It’s very melodramatic. Very heartbreaking to see the look on her face. Gut wrenching to hear the anguish in her voice. The concept may seem foreign to you, but for K, there are things that have to exist at a certain time or a certain place, or they are lost forever. She immediately sense loss and misses the object or person in question, but she doesn’t have the comprehension to understand and articulate this in a way most would understand.
Autism has taught me that spitting on a classmate means a little girl is in desperate need on some one on one time with mom or dad. It has taught me that tantrums and fits are the result of too many disruptions to the schedule. It has taught me to read between the lines while making sure the lines are highly defined. It’s a crazy balancing act. Having to translate what your six year old is saying in public can be frustrating. People don’t always understand what she says. Or worse, they think they do and will respond in a way that upsets her. All I can do is help her to better communicate with her words, her expressions, and her eye contact. Autism has taught me that.