I love this photograph because you wouldn’t know anything was amiss. It was taken on our drive back to the airport as we were leaving Napa, California last week.
I don’t know whether other parents of children with autism feel this way or not, but any time I see Emma interacting with another child in “typical” or more typical ways, my heart soars. Whenever Emma acknowledges Nic’s presence, plays with him, tries to be with him or shows a desire to be with one of her cousins I am filled with hope. These tiny moments are like little beacons in an often dark tunnel.
“Without motivation she will not try,” one of the many specialists we took Emma to once said to us.
When I decided I was going to teach Emma how to hug a family member, it was with the hope that she might find she liked the sensation and might take the initiative to hug one of us without being prompted to do so.
“Put your arms around and squeeze,” I instructed her. Sometimes she seemed happy to do so, other times, she didn’t. Usually she put her arms around the person while keeping her body from having direct contact, her head jutting away at an odd angle. I probably would have had more luck teaching her the art of the air kiss, she would like that (which says something about my waspy heritage).
As much as Emma does not appear to derive much pleasure from hugging while standing, she loves to get into Richard and my bed in the mornings and cuddle. She aligns her body with mine and lies as close to me as she physically can. Often she will pull my arms around her so they are holding her in a snug embrace. Other times she will run up to one of us and give one of us a kiss or will climb into our lap. I take it as progress. It reminds me of a blog post I wrote over a year ago now when Emma embraced me as I was standing in the kitchen. I was in shock because it was unprecedented. Now those sorts of spontaneous embraces are more commonplace. But it shows progress. Or what I think of as progress.
One of the things about an autism diagnosis that makes me sad is the thought that my child may not have the experience of friendships. But as Emma matures, I have learned to redefine what “friendship” means. And I have seen that in Emma’s own way she does have friends, children she prefers to be with. Emma’s friendships do not include secrets or talking or sleepovers. They do not include making bracelets for each other and excluding other children in a show of preference. Emma does not know about cliques, gossip, comparing, jealousy or what it means to be “cool”. Emma is thankfully oblivious to all of those social constructs we try so desperately to shield our neuro-typical children from.
Emma is present, almost always in the moment. I don’t think she worries a great deal about the future, she just is.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and her first spontaneous embrace, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com