Early on I knew if I wanted to have a relationship with Emma I needed to enter her world as much as possible. I tend to project – feelings, thoughts, abstract concepts – none of which are helpful. Emma’s world does not include the kinds of “feelings” I tend to apply.
For example, upon much urging from Emma, we adopted a cat last November. Emma rarely expresses a desire for things and so when she began asking to go to various animal shelters and saying, “Now take kitty home,” we felt we needed to oblige. We went to a rescue shelter together and after about three hours left with Merlin, a black male, just under a year old. I know Emma enjoys Merlin and is glad we brought him home. She stopped asking to go to animal shelters or the pet store. So whatever it was she wanted from having a cat of her own, Merlin has accomplished. Yet it remains a mystery to the rest of us as to why she was so insistent on having a cat. Particularly as now that we have one, she seems content that he has been brought into the fold, but by no means appears enamored by him as the rest of us have become.
If Merlin is sleeping in his favorite spot – the rocking chair – the single most coveted piece of furniture in our home, Emma will simply tip the chair over until he falls out. Nic is horrified by her matter of fact actions and always cries out – “Poor Merlin! She’s doing it again, Mom.”
Having removed Merlin, Emma then plops down into the rocking chair and proceeds to happily suck her thumb. We attribute all sorts of “feelings” to her actions. She doesn’t care about Merlin. She doesn’t love him as we do. And in Nic’s case – he feels she is “mean” to Merlin. But to Emma, Merlin is occupying the place she wants to be and so he must be removed. It’s pretty simple. I don’t think she is thinking of Merlin’s feelings. My guess is she cannot understand why the rest of us react the way we do. “Poor Merlin!” we say and now she laughs and tips the chair at an even more precarious angle.
When Emma “plays” with Merlin she will whip his toy around her head, rather than try to engage him in play. His toy is interesting to her, but the idea that it is his toy and one to be used to play with him is something Emma doesn’t seem to understand. If one considers that “playing” for Emma is an abstract concept, one she does not come to easily then all of this starts to make more sense. And yet, Emma continues to surprise us. There are times when Emma clearly is playing with Merlin and enjoying it. She will grab one of his “mice” which is attached to a string and run through the house, the mouse rocketing along behind her with Merlin hot on her heels. She squeals with laughter as do I while watching her. Emma is taking pleasure in something she loves to do – running – but is also taking pleasure in Merlin running too. It suggests an awareness of “other” which denotes tremendous progress.
Friendships with her peers are not easy for Emma. They are something she needs help with. I believe she desires the interactions, but people are unpredictable, particularly young children. Her head teacher recently sent home this photo of Emma holding hands, (unprompted by any adult) with her classmates while out on an outing. It is wonderful to see. (In this photo Emma is wearing a weighted dress, which her school encourages her to wear, as it calms her.)
Emma has a number of “friends” now, much to our pleasure and dismay. But Emma does not play with her friends as a neuro-typical 8-year-old girl would. There are no whispered “secrets” or friendship bracelets being exchanged. She clearly cares deeply for a number of friends, but when they are thrown together she isn’t always sure what to do with them. Her “best” friend is an adorable little boy named Ben and they often sit together during lunch, sometimes even hold hands. I cannot begin to express the joy it gives me to know that Emma has a special friend, one whom she looks forward to seeing and wants to sit next to. How she feels, what she thinks, I cannot begin to know. What does “friend” mean to her? I do not know.
In order to know Emma, one must try to toss aside any preconceptions about intent or feelings. In fact, I have learned over the years, I must put aside all of what I think I “know” about human behavior and enter a state of “what is”. “What is” = my description of Emma’s mind. There is no “good” or “bad” – it simply is. If one has ever attempted meditation one will know how difficult it is for most of us to enter a state of non-judgement. A state of just being present. People spend thousands of dollars and years of their life attempting to gain mastery over this “practice”. Emma comes to it naturally.