Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Autism Educational Series—Empathy—"It's Brock's World and We Just Live in It"

After her son received an official diagnosis of autism and sensory processing disorder, Lindsay was handed some paperwork with a pat on the back followed by a "good luck you got this." She was confused as to where to go from there, so she did endless research and took to her pen and paper, thus starting "It's Brock's World We Just Live In It." She's been featured on The Mighty, Good News Network, Godvine, and Fox News, when my son's love of The Men in Blue turned into him inviting our whole local police department to his 7th birthday party. You can find Lindsay on Facebook at It's Brock's World and We Just Live in It.
Autism Vs. Empathy
It all started at a park one day a few years ago. My son Brock, who is on the autism spectrum, met a new friend while playing on the slides. Everything was going well until his new friend fell down and got hurt. Everyone crowded around the child, asking if he was OK, as tears were filling his eyes, except for Brock.
I heard it first—a loud bubble of laughter erupted from his chest—and then all eyes were on him as he fell to the ground in hysterics. I rushed to Brock as fast as I could to try and remove him from the situation, but not before a few parents started yelling that my child was extremely rude. Which, if I didn't know Brock I'd have to agree—laughing when someone is crying is rude. But what they didn't notice were Brock's nervous ticks while he was laughing. He'll usually start sucking on his clothes, pulling his ears, and sometimes pacing back and forth. I knew Brock wasn't laughing because he thought it was funny—he was scared for his friend and showing it in the only way he knew how.
When Brock was going through testing to see if he was on the autism spectrum I had to fill out tons of questionnaires. A lot of questions had to do with emotions such as: Does your child's facial expressions coincide with what's going on? Check yes or no. I obviously checked no. Does your child express empathy properly? Again, I checked no. Laughing or sometimes walking away wouldn't be considered expressing empathy properly, or so I thought.
One of the questions I'm asked frequently is if Brock lacks empathy, or if it's even possible for someone on the autism spectrum to have any empathy? If you're not looking closely it may appear that way, but if you look a little deeper you'll see that it's entirely possible to be empathetic while not expressing it in the conventional way.
Society expects us to all act a certain way, and if we don't we're considered to be different. We're all expected to conform to society's standards, and not look at life through other peoples' eyes. It's expected that because Brock has autism, I'm going to teach him basically not to act autistic. Sure, I want him to know right and wrong, and what's appropriate and what's not, but I think it's unrealistic to want me to change my child completely because he doesn't "fit" with what everyone else does.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I think Brock fully understands what others are feeling, but he just can't express it the way some may be looking for. I can count on one hand the number of times he's told me "I love you" with words, and I'm not going to lie, it used to hurt. But since I've gotten to know my son in the seven years he's been alive I can say with 100% certainty that he is able to express his love without words. Sometimes it's in a high five, other times he pats my back just a little bit longer, or squeezes my shoulder. There is no right or wrong way to express ones feelings. So to answer the question: "Is it possible for someone on the autism spectrum to express empathy?" As a mother who has spent the last seven years raising a child on the spectrum, and learning everything there is to know about him up to this point, I'd have to say without a doubt, yes.

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