Moments before, Big Guy had been playfully chased after saying “hi” coyly to the woman and had run toward his brother. Not understanding the social cues of smiling faces, but seeing his brother running away from someone he didn’t know, he had perceived the situation as a dangerous one. It came as a shock to me and The Manager that he rose up in that situation and protected him. He didn’t break down, have a meltdown, or scream. He stood up, shouted, and told her to leave his brother alone.
We had to reassure him that everything was okay. The employee told him that she wasn’t going to hurt his brother. He calmed down. As she rung me up, she told me how good it was that he was so protective over his brother and that her kids just fought all the time. And, you see, this isn’t a first for Squeaker. He looks out for his brother, but he does become distressed if he feels like we’re not reacting fast enough to what he perceives as danger. Each time he does this, it reminds me of what a precious gift we have in him.
You see, I think people misunderstand Autism and believe that people with Autism lack feeling and don’t care about others. The common characteristic of Autism is that people with Autism really lack or have a deficit in Theory of Mind. Yes, they can use people as objects, but they still love. Mostly, there is difficulty understanding emotions. This tends to improve with age and development, especially if you work on these skills with them. With this comes trouble understanding sarcasm, deceit, and subtle social rules. But, the thing I have noticed with most children I’ve met who are diagnosed with Autism is that they actually feel emotions more deeply than others. And if you think they don’t feel your emotions, you’re probably wrong. They may not understand them, but from what I’ve seen, they feel them.
Squeaker still has quite a bit of trouble understanding the emotions we feel. Many times, he’s more concerned with how our emotions will impact him. He wants his world to be okay. But, he will also mimic emotions and illnesses. If Mommy is sad, he’s sad. If Mommy is happy, he’s happy. If Mommy has a headache, he does too. He’s at the center of everything. But then there are times where he really wants to make things all better. He gives hugs and tries to console. He gets distressed if he can’t fix it.
The fact of the matter is, Squeaker is a loving child. He snuggles with me. He gives me kisses. He looks out for his brother. We definitely have our rough moments, and they are frequent enough, but they are sprinkled with a fine dusting of love and sweetness.
When we walked out of the store today, I turned to Squeaker and I told him what a good big brother he was and how proud I was that he tried to protect his little brother. Then, I walked down the sidewalk with tears of pride in my eyes.