A couple months ago as I was standing outside the shower coaching Emma who was inside the shower, I said, “Okay, good, Emma. Now wash the soap off.”
Dutifully Emma took the bar of soap in her hand and held it under the shower spray.
That action is pure Emma. And it is also pure autism. It’s both and they are inextricably bound together and enmeshed. So when people say – I love my child, but I hate their autism – I know what they mean, I know they love their child completely, I know they are expressing their frustration and sadness that their child suffers in a variety of ways because of their various sensory issues and difficulties with language causing them to be self-injurious, tantrum and feel untold frustration. I know what they are trying to say, but I don’t believe we get to pick out the “autism” piece and remove it. Autism is like an ingredient added to a recipe. Thinking that we can find that one ingredient mixed in with everything else will be a painful and ultimately destructive pursuit. The ingredients are all stirred together and together they are what makes Emma, Emma.
It helps me to clarify in my mind what I want to help Emma with, by being specific. Such as – help her learn how to cope better when she is overloaded sensorially, help her with transitions, push her to work on her reading, writing, typing skills, math. Help her understand the concept of time and money (these are future goals, we are certainly not there yet.) Help her with comprehension and grammar. Help her find alternate ways to cope with her frustrations. Help her when she feels the need to hit herself or bite herself. All of these things are what I try to help her with.
That literalism, (something I share, by the way) is as much a part of Emma as anything else.
The other day Nic and Richard were laughing over some joke. ”What’s so funny?” I asked.
Nic looked at his dad and gave him a look. A look that said – Should we tell her? Should we bother, cause this could take some time.
Richard smiled at me and told me the joke. When I didn’t respond immediately Nic began to try and explain. ”Get it?” he ended.
“Um. Okay. But I still don’t get why that’s funny.”
Again Nic tried to explain, until I interrupted him, “No I understand what the words mean, I just don’t get why that’s funny.”
“Oh poor Mommy,” Nic said giggling and rolling his eyes at his dad. Then he patted me on the head!
My inability to understand all but the most obvious jokes has become, in and of itself, a running joke. I rarely tell jokes because I can’t remember them. I can’t remember them because most of the time I don’t understand why people think they’re funny. I just don’t get it. So when Emma thrust the bar of soap under the spray of water, I got it and I was filled with admiration. No, I’m not kidding. I really was. We say all kinds of things that “literally” don’t mean what we mean. As Emma did as she was told, I amended my comment, “Hey Emmy. Wash the soap suds off of your body.”
And so she did.
To read my most recent Huffington Post, click ‘here.’