Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘empathy

The Empathy Strikes Back (at Hopeful Parents)

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This post was published today here at Hopeful Parents, but the site is taking so long to load that I’m posting it here as well.

I spend a lot of time teaching Pudding skills that I hope will prove useful to her in the future.  Sometimes I teach her things that are also useful to me right now.  Earlier this year she learned how to make her own bed.  It is great that my girl at 5 is managing something my mother couldn’t get me to do at 15, and most days I take more than a little pride in her achievements.

There is a downside, of course, waiting to bite.  Some days we’re running late, but Pudding insists on making her bed before leaving the house.  As I wait with the utmost impatience, I’m reminded of the old adage, be careful what you wish for.

Now the solution would be to organize ourselves better so that the bed-making was taken care of long before we need to set off.  But being organized isn’t my strong suit.  I blame my mother- she didn’t even teach me to make my own bed until my late teens, my lack of organizational skills is entirely her fault!  Just kidding (Mum!) and in truth, who cares about being a few minutes late for school when such essential learning is taking place right at home.  Not just domestic chores, but time-management and planning.

Then there are other things that I haven’t taught Pudding.  Some things I’m not sure how to teach, or I’m not sure if they should be taught.  I walk a line between deciding if something is a necessary skill, or if it would be trying to force neurotypical ways on an autistic brain.  I read accounts by Autistic adults, but my ultimate gauge is my relationship with Pudding.  I imagine having conversations with her in a decade or two, in which I justify my actions.

I have no qualms about teaching her to make a bed.  She’ll thank me one day (thank you, Mum).  But what if my efforts were to go too far?  What if she felt forced into acting in a way that isn’t her, and doesn’t make sense to her?  Some things aren’t black and white skills, but a whole murky grey area.  A sense of what is appropriate may differ vastly from person to person.

For a long time, if I was sick, in pain, or crying with sadness, Pudding did not seem to show empathy.  I’m not saying she didn’t feel empathy, just that she wasn’t expressing it in the way I expected.  But expressing empathy in my (neurotypical) way, was not something I felt I should teach.

Perhaps as she got older, I’d tell that people expect others to behave in certain ways, but only at the point I felt I could do that without Pudding feeling judged or wrong for expressing herself differently.  I can tell from the awkwardness of that sentence that I’d struggle with that no matter how I tried.

Fortunately, for me, Pudding has lately begun to express empathy in a very typical way.  Last week when I mentioned I had a headache, Pudding got out of her chair, crawled into my lap, kissed my forehead twice and told me she was making it better.

Would you believe me if I told you it worked?  And it took less time than the tablets I’d already taken too!

I didn’t have to wait too long for this latest development to strike back.  That same evening as I tried to get her to go to sleep, Pudding tossed and turned and eventually got out of bed.  When I asked what was wrong, she let me know that her doll was too hot, and therefore she had to take off her pyjamas and replace them with a nightgown, which took her some time to find.

I felt my headache creeping back the more empathy she expressed regarding Kelly doll, empathy looking a lot like a tactic to delay going to bed.

Of course, sleeping by herself is another skill we haven’t yet figured out.  If that one were to bite back too, I wouldn’t notice…I’d be too busy catching up on all those sleepless nights in a galaxy far, far away.

http://www.hopefulparents.org/blog/2012/3/18/the-empathy-strikes-back.html

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm

The Tracks of my Tears

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So what I didn’t refer to in yesterday’s post were the tears.  At one point in the afternoon, I was a little puddle.  I’d been holding on for a few days.  I’d wanted to cry when I locked Cubby in the car, but that would have only made the situation worse.  I’d wanted to cry when I felt ill the next day, but there didn’t seem much point by then.  I’d wanted to shed tears of forcing a claustrophobic Pudding to stay inside, but I held back.  And I really wanted to cry upon hearing about the 16 hour flight, but somehow managed not to.

I pride myself on my stiff upper lip from my English heritage.  I felt that I’d cried too many tears when Pudding was first diagnosed.  I vowed not to waste any more on something I couldn’t change.  A useless, self-indulgent act.

I’m stressed to the point of tears, and I don’t let myself…because it is self-indulgent?  How else am I going to indulge myself?  When am I going to indulge myself?  And at what point do I let myself break?  So I reclined on the sofa, and let the tears fall.  My inner Englishwoman did chide me for being so ridiculous, but I just gave in to it.

After a few minutes, Pudding came to find me.  “I want wheels on the bus song.”

I ignored her.

I don’t want to admit this, but I was waiting to see if she’d notice.  She didn’t.  She wasn’t looking.  Her mind was on hearing the song she wanted, my feelings not relevant right then.  I wasn’t feeling like making it a teaching moment.  There will be other opportunities to demonstrate how to show concern.  I cried some more, I was being indulgent anyway, why not gratify myself with a few more tears?  I let them flow.

She asked again, a few times, until I asked her to leave through my sobs.  I’m not proud.  Hardly my best parenting moment, but I justified that she needs to see emotions if she is ever to understand them.  I know, my inner Englishwoman is rolling her eyes too.

Once Pudding had made her retreat, Cubby entered.  He saw me crying and stopped.  His face contorted into a sob, but somehow he held himself in check, and didn’t make a sound.  It was a look of…concern.  Something I’d never seen him do before.  Previously when I’d hurt myself, or Pudding cried, his reaction had been to cry too.  I fell down the stairs some weeks ago, and he cried for 20 minutes after, even though it was my ankle that was hurt, and he was just a witness.

“Mummy’s crying…..Mummy’s sad.”

We label emotions a lot, so I wasn’t surprised he had detected this one.  But I was surprised by what he did next.  He crawled up on the couch next to me, and grabbed a lock of my hair.  He just sat there, his head resting on mine, stroking my hair.  Trying to comfort me in the way that works for him.  I took it.  Before long the tears stopped flowing, and I dried my face.  I gave my little guy a hug.

He looked at me and asked, “Mummy happy?”

I told him I was, and we left to join his sister for wheels on the bus.  I gave Pudding a squeeze, though she hadn’t solicited it, and didn’t particularly welcome it.

As Cubby nears two, I can really see the different developmental tracks they are taking.  Different, not less.  Pudding will get there, at her own pace.  She is still in the race, and there is no prize for winning.  What comes naturally and easily to her brother is an arduous task for her to master.  Though Cubby has some challenges too, they pale into comparison with those of his sister.
Some kids get to sprint, others must face a marathon.  I’m proud of her, and all her efforts.  Truly, her determination takes my breath away.  Her spirit keeps her on track, instead of sitting on the bench.

But I would be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt at times as I watch her get overtaken.  Those tears will have to fall too, useless and indulgent as they may be.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 11, 2011 at 7:24 am

A day in the life.

with 4 comments

Wake up, 4.45.  No Pudding, don’t be awake.  Go back to sleep, please go back to sleep.  I’m too tired. She comes into our room, gets into bed.  The day has begun. Don’t be snappy, rouse yourself, wake up! Daddy goes to work.  Cubby wakes up.  I take a shower.  Are they playing?  It is too quiet, what are they doing? They are playing together.  I get dressed, go downstairs taking the kids with me.  Today Pudding starts her trial back on rice.  I make Cream of Rice cereal.  She must be so excited, she has had the same couple of things for breakfast over and over these last few months. She doesn’t like it.  I add blueberries, vanilla, more honey.  She eats most of it.  Cubby loves it.  Get the kids washed and dressed.  Bus comes, Pudding leaves for school.

Clean up after breakfast.  Load dishwasher.  Play time with Cubby, but first must do laundry.  So much laundry, when did I last do it?  Two days ago, three?  Why is there always so much?  Oh no, no detergent! Grab Cubby and go to the store.  Outside is hot, and humid already.  85F reads the car’s temperature gauge.  I’m going to get bitten by mosquitoes. I should have put repellent on.  They love my exotic English blood and my suck-me skin. Do shopping, get detergent, time to check-out.  Cubby is missing a shoe.  He does this every time. 20 minutes later find shoe  Yes, it was under the trolley the whole time, why do you make me say it? We leave.  Temp up to 87F.  Good, we’ll be home in time for him to take a proper nap in his bed. Cubby falls asleep in the car, wakes up when we return home.

Make lunch for us both and eat.  No time to clean up.  Drive 25 minutes to school for Pudding.  91F.  Head straight to speech therapy session, driving another 25 minutes through ritziest neighbourhoods.  I want to live in a mansion like this.  I want to be stinking rich.  What do they do, these people, to get so rich? Arrive 20 minutes early.  Wait in car with a/c on.  Temperature gauge now reads 95F.  Cubby is asleep.  Try to entertain Pudding, but she just asks to get out the entire time.  Can’t get out without waking him up.  He needs his sleep, never gets a proper nap, my fault.  Oh, hello Guilt, my old friend, how are you?  Why must she keep asking to get out after I said no?  She doesn’t understand, so I have to be Understanding.  Be Patient.

Time to go in.  Leave her there and return to car.  Cubby wakes up.  It is hot, temperature gauge up to 97F.  Drive to get a drink.  Cubby enjoys being free of the car seat.  After 10 minutes, time to collect her.  He screams at being out back in the car, now 97F.  Guilt, Guilt, Guilt. Pudding has had a good session, lots of talking, great social interaction. Thank goodness, it makes this drive in the heat worth it.  She tries so hard, it must be hard after a morning at school.  Must be Empathetic, remember to be Patient. Get back in the car, 98F.

Driving on highway, Pudding speaks: “I want to go potty”.  Still 15 minutes from home, she can’t hold it.  Cubby whining.  Come off highway, drive to a strip mall.  “I want to go potty.  I want to go potty.” Over and over.  I know, I get it, I’m trying!  Why are there so few parking spaces?  This is America, everybody drives everywhere, make more parking spaces! Find parking space.  Enter fast food restaurant, head to bathroom.  There is a queue, 3 women in front of us.  There is a hand dryer.  The low-frequency sound drives Pudding insane.  Cubby is squirming to get down.

Pudding: I want to go potty, I want a hug.  Want mummy to hug.

Me: I know honey, I’m sorry- we have to wait, these ladies are in front of us.  Please, for the love of God, women, let us go in front of you.

Nobody lets us go in front.  Someone comes out, washes their hands, uses hand dryer.  Pudding squeals, women turn and look disapprovingly.

Me: I know sweetheart, that sound really hurts your ears, I know, I’m sorry. 

Can one of you please have a little empathy?  I know she looks like she is older than she is, like she should be able to hold it.  I know you don’t get that a hand dryer and flickering florescent lights drive her crazy.  You don’t have to get it, you don’t have to live it, just let us go ahead of you and my screaming kids will be out of your way.

We wait our turn.  The next two ladies use the hand dryer too.  A plague on both your houses.  No, be Understanding.  They can’t tell just by looking at her, I should be brave and tell them she has autism.  Yeah, well, I would if  I wasn’t trying to control a wailing girl, and a toddler hell-bent on touching every filthy surface in here.  Today isn’t about raising awareness, it is about just getting through an ordinary day.

We leave.  A big, black SUV is stalking our parking space.  I shake my head at the driver, he doesn’t move.  There is no way we’ll be out of here quickly dude, just move on. Put Cubby in first, he screams.    I don’t want to put you in either baby, I know.  Just lets get home, please. Black SUV still waiting.  Look at the Autism Awareness magnet.  Look at the exhausted mother with the two little kids, look and be Patient, and Understanding, I implore you. I try to soothe Cubby, while keeping a grip on Pudding’s hand lest she runs off.  Black SUV beeps his horn, Pudding screams and falls to the ground.  She was already on the brink, but the too loud noise from the too close car sends her over.  She is shaking, her heart pounding.  I want to hit you.  I want to hurt you like you just hurt my baby.  I want to smash the windows on your car.  I want to scream and swear, and I can’t make a sound apart from to comfort her, anything else would just make it worse. Cubby is crying, Pudding is crying.  I pull her into the front seat and rock her.  I’m going to sit here as long as it takes, this car isn’t going anywhere.  Black SUV rolls down his window to yell ‘Bitch’ at me before driving off.  Pudding calms down.  I put her in the car and we drive home.  Temperature gauge hits 100F.  I’m done.

I can’t change Pudding.  She has a neurological difference that can’t be altered.  I wouldn’t change her if I could, I’d just make this world easier on her.  I need other people to change instead.  I need the women in the bathroom to change, I need the man in the black SUV to change.  I need them to be Patient and Understanding and Empathetic.  I don’t need you to feel Guilt, I’ve got that covered. You’re here, you’re doing your bit.  But can you just tell those people for me?  Because I’m done, for today.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 11, 2010 at 1:00 am