Projecting.

We were waiting in the children’s shoe department right next to the exit where we parked.  Daddy had gone to get a coffee.

The children’s department was recently remodeled.  A fish tank, was just placed near the exit door and, last week, clown, angel, and those bright, royal blue fish, the name of which escapes me at the moment, appeared.  A boy about 3 years old, half my son’s age, was nearby, looking at shoes.

I pointed out a fish to my son.  His eyes followed my finger.  Then, he walked away, softly saying, “Ford Shelby GT.”  The other little boy however, pointed the clown fish out to me, saying “Look at that one!”  I acceded to his demand, while my own son wandered between the shoe displays.  The little boy then pointed to the table’s picture of the clown fish saying, “It’s just like Nemo!”  I agreed.  He ran to get his mom.

Nemo and his friends did not interest me, but I was probing to see if the fish might interest my son.   The answer was a resounding no.  My son had grabbed a light up shoe from the big boy’s section, walked to the little boy’s section and grabbed another.  Holding them side by side, he banged them against a counter to activate their light up features.  “One is little and one is big,” he said softly, staring at the flashing lights.  He did not look at me.

In between these two “conversations”, I was asked three times if someone could help me find something. No, I said politely.  Finally, the bearer of the keys to the car showed up and we left.

Why the difference between my son and that other little boy?  I want answers and more than the word “autism.”  I want specifics.

  • Is a conversation too much sensory input?
  • Is he unable to process quickly enough to follow along?
  • Is he taking it in but needs more than a “typical” time frame to respond?
  • Is he so into his own thoughts that he is socially ‘blind” to those around him?
  • Does he tune out what he sees as irrelevant to focus on his own pleasure?
  • If he is tuning out, does he process what goes on anyway?

There are so many other questions I have, but no matter how I ask, no one has the answers for me.  I don’t know.  My best guess is that he takes it in and processes it if he finds it of interest.  A fleeting moment with an unknown face may be too inconsequential to bother with on his information highway.   He may discard it in favor of what his dad said about going to Target.  He may know the transient nature of any exchange between me a stranger, and blocks that in favor of his own interests to pass the time.

He has a delay somewhere.  But the delays are uneven.  In some areas, he processes faster than most people.  Most of the time, if he is taught something that neurotypical children his age already know (for example, responding to “How are you?”) he can pick it up within a couple of days in therapy.  In real life?  Not so much.  Why?

When I first heard the word autism, it scared me.  I had that fear of the unknown.  The strange thing is that I still don’t really ‘know’ what autism is specifically and how much it will limit or just serve as a delay to my son. What will he be capable of in two, five, ten years?  I have to project what I think may be going on to try and make sense of it – to try and relate to him.

Someone recently remarked that I “surely” found myself missing out on reciprocal affection from my son, even though there must be “other rewards”.  And from that, from the way so many on the periphery of my life treat me,  I had anger.  Now, I see that they must be looking at me, as I look at my own son.  With conjecture, from their own feelings – feelings that have nothing to do with my reality.  So, how can I fault someone for trying to show understanding, however misguided it might be?

Projection is what we do to make sense of the world from within.  We project what we know and what we feel and see onto others, to try and relate to what they might feel or see or think in relation to us.  It may not be accurate, but for those of use who operate from our neurotypical (or nearly neurotypical, or learned neurotypical) worlds, we have fairly good odds at socially acceptable and relatable exchanges.

But I’m thinking, the success of one’s projection depends upon one’s own repository.  How much you understand of another person’s life circumstance, how you might have had a similar circumstance or whether you come from an entirely different cultural or moral upbringing that will affect your social interactions.  My son’s “repository” is very slowly expanding.  I wonder how much it will grow in the future for his projection as well.

The communication between my son and I is clear between us. It is reciprocal, funny and happy for the most part.  He tells me he loves me several times a day as I do him.  We have hugs and kisses.  He asks for tickles and wants me to play.

Love fills his repository.  And when you can project love, you’ve got something really special going on.  I wish the rest of the world could see it.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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20 Responses to Projecting.

  1. Lisa says:

    I have many of the same questions…if I ever figure those mind-benders out, I’ll share our experience! I would agree that Tate’s delays are uneven, too. Your point about how T picks something up quickly in therapy, but struggles to generalize to real life is an issue for us, too.

    I loved your last statement. It is so spot on to what we have here. If it helps at all, I can see it. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      I think it’s the unevenness of it that leaves me wondering what the future may or may not bring. One day at summer camp it’s 3 time outs and the next he has none – a good day. Which side will become dominant?

      I guess I should have been more clear in that last part! I am more grateful than I could ever say for all my special needs parents that get it! It is the outside world, that I wish understood.

  2. Allie says:

    The part about the other little boy pointing out the fish and running to get him mom is made me cry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had those kind of moments and they are hard to understand. I need to stop thinking about those NT type of exchanges I’m not getting and instead relish the kind we do have. They are different but they are ours and they are filled with love. Thanks for this sweet reminder.

    • solodialogue says:

      It gets less painful as the years go by but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was still some unpleasantness in witnessing the clear differences. We are just all different – never ever less. There are joy-filled moments with my child that a parent of just NT children will never understand – I think those moments are gifts and I have learned to focus on them when I need them most. xoxo

  3. I have those very same questions, something for the researchers to work on. I find that with Random Guy and my DH they are so into their own thoughts they don’t hear me the first, second, and maybe even third time. They can tell me what they were lost in thought, SensiGirl can’t, but I suspect that it is the same. Nice to know Toots is lovey like SensiGirl.

    • Oh, I also wanted to say, it does kind of hurt when I talk to little ones who are more verbal than my girl. But then yesterday I was asked to read a book by a 4 year old and she didn’t have a clue as to the words or numbers. It was strange reading to a child who was so verbal and couldn’t read. Strange what we get used to.

      • solodialogue says:

        Yes, that is different, isn’t it?! I have never read with a NT child, although I know other children in Toots’ kindergarten class struggled with the sight words he burned through in a week. It must have been a flip-flop of our position to see a socially aware child unable to read. You make me think. Thanks, Lori for sharing that.

    • solodialogue says:

      Lost in thought is a great place to be many times a day, if you ask me. 🙂

      It’s good to know that SensiGirl also enjoys the hugs and kisses!

  4. You hit me on the heart today. I look at Henry and I just see love. I agree that things learned during therapy doesn’t seem to retain as well in real life. All good questions I’d love to know the answers to. BTW – what is it about those light-up shoes? I had to keep brother’s dirty shoes away from H all the time. Eck.

    • solodialogue says:

      I see all that love too!

      It’s something to master a skill in the controlled setting of therapy but real life just is always different. Generalizing seems to be the hardest part of ABA to me. The lights! They’re crazy for those things! (Maybe if you make it a condition of looking at the brother’s shoes – to baby wipe or clean them off first – then either (a) brother will have clean shoes or (b) he’ll give up on the dirty ones! 🙂

  5. Mary says:

    I think the answer to all six questions is simply “sometimes”.

    Sorry. I know it’s frustrating. I had to tell Freckles today that I couldn’t hear or understand her unless she looked at me instead of the floor. So she got mad at me and said I was mean. Sometimes it seems like being “mean” is the only way to get her to understand. When your 9yo daughter thinks it’s funny to pick her nose in public, for example, no matter what you say, is it better to be “mean” or let other kids make fun of her? What do you do?

    • solodialogue says:

      I think you’re probably right.

      “Mean” is relative in these circumstances, isn’t it? I guess we hand them the tissue, tell them a social story about when it is appropriate to pick your nose (ha! Who knew I’d ever write that?!) and after being sure she gets it, leave her to the consequences of her actions! I think it’s hard enough to step back at all – doubly so with our kids.

  6. Mary says:

    I didn’t mean to sound so negative. I am lucky. My 9yo still sits in my lap and gives me huge hugs every day. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      You did not sound negative to me – realistic, really. I love that at 9, she still sits in your lap and gives you hugs! 🙂
      I’m just starting to experience the kiss wipe-away!! Oh no! For the most part, though, he loves the hugs and kisses!

  7. That bit about reciprocal affection would make me angry, too. I never feel that Daniel cannot or does not love because I know that attention is not the same as affection.

  8. LM does point out things that interest her, but I think in that particular case, she might have quickly visited the fish — only to spend some quality time with the shoes alongside T. Shoes have always been of particular interest to LM (yes, you can tell me now… I am so SCREWED when she gets older).

    Here’s my take… I’ve heard a lot lately on the phrase “splintered skills.” It is one of the symptoms of autism — as sure as self-stimulation (stims) and communication problems. Basically, it means, that our kids are often skilled in one area but lack comparable skills in another. That’s the reason why ABA drills are so important.. a good BCBA identifies the splintered areas and designs a program to help bring those splintered skills along.

    We too have problems with a “reciprocal”… but it’s not reciprocal affection — it’s reciprocal communication. LM has affection pouring up and over, but her ability to communicate it in a meaningful way is one of those splintered skills. I hope, that as we really get moving in ABA, this is one of the areas we can target and improve.

    • solodialogue says:

      I noticed that you did not limit the comment to light up shoes. Oh dear! Start saving now!!! Lol!

      Splintered skills is a term I’ve heard too. I just wish I could understand why the splinter is there. I’ve come to start wondering why some things soak in easier than others. Why does he know and recognize adults by name so easily but is blind to the names of peers, for example?

      ABA is so important and has taught Toots more than I could’ve ever thought possible and certainly that I did not know how to do myself but the generalization – the part when the therapists consider a task/skill mastered and they turn it over to us or for our child to do with everyone? Doesn’t quite go that smoothly or consistently. And so I continue to wonder what to do.

  9. Mary says:

    I just thought of something. Are you sure your son can see the fish in the tank?

    Two years ago the OT sent us to an eye doctor who also had a Vision Therapy clinic in his office. I had both of my kids evaluated by the doctor because I wasn’t sure about anything I was being told and the regular eye doctor and GP didn’t seem to think much of the Vision Therapy doctor. I wondered if every kid who went to this doctor “needed” vision therapy. The doctor said Freckles needed it but my older daughter was ok. Both kids eyesight was 20/20 or better BTW.

    He gave Freckles (ok, gave in exchange for $500–thank goodness for the great insurance I had then) these glasses that were supposed to force her to back away from her book or paper when reading or writing. I am not good at explaining all this. Sorry. It has to do with how kids will put their heads on the desk when writing or cover one eye. They are trying to limit the sensory info that gets in to make things easier to process.

    Freckles was then evaluated (to the tune of $400+ that the great insurance would not touch) by the actual vision therapist. I wasn’t allowed in during the tests because parents interfere or something. Not us but some parents. 😉 Anyway, for reasons that didn’t make sense to me, Freckles needed vision therapy. It cost over $4000 for the first set of sessions, insurance wouldn’t touch it and they didn’t accept insurance anyway, it was a 45 minute drive each way, and so we didn’t get it. I still wasn’t sure she needed the vision therapy because, when the school tests her on reading words per minute and comprehension, she’s off the charts. I’m not bragging; I’m just saying, how can the school say she reads REALLY well and the therapist says she needs therapy to see to read? It doesn’t make sense, does it? The OT took a look at the paperwork from the evaluation and agreed with me that it didn’t all make sense and some of it was contradictory or just plain wrong/sloppy.

    What did I learn from this experience? That Vision therapy may or may not be a crock and it’s expensive? There’s that. 🙂 But then there was something else. The eye doctor had a link on his website to some simple 3D images– you know, the ones that you stare at a pattern and then suddenly you see the 3D image popping out of the picture? So we were fooling around with that at home and I came to realize that neither of my kids can see 3D. I’ve always hated 3D movies because they give me a terrible headache. Go figure. My kids don’t like them either. Maybe because we don’t process the images correctly? Or it’s just so hard to process the moving 3D images?

    I just wondered if between the distortions of the glass and the water… maybe the fish are too hard to see or focus on. Plus, they’re moving. And then there are all the other distractions of the store to process.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen a vision therapist or not, but I thought it might be worth mentioning just in case. I don’t mean to sound like I think the vision therapy is complete bull. There were issues the doctor and our OT pointed out that Freckles has with her eyes. Our old regular eye doctor retired and the new guy could see some of the issues when we saw him a couple months ago. So there is something to it. I’m just not sure if it’s worth $4000 every 6 months or so for something that may or may not do any good. The regular OT did incorporate some of the vision therapy into our regular OT for us. But she can only do so much in 1 hour a week. The neurologist canceled last week and rescheduled this week so we’ll ask about this, too. I will have a list to hand him.

    Sorry this is so long but it’s late and the whole thing is hard to explain. I will say that the Vision Therapy doctor made SPD make sense to me more than any other professional or book has. Of course, he was the self-proclaimed ADHD posterchild and I do relate better to others with ADHD/ADD. We speak the same language. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      That was extremely kind of you to share Mary! Thank you. My son, however could see the fish. He just was not interested in them. Very interesting bit about vision therapy. Doesn’t seem to make much sense with the reading being what it is though. If the explanation requires an explanation, and the price is what you say, it sounds like a scam to me. ( I never could see those 3D pictures that were all the fad back then and I’ve not tried watching a 3D movie but I’m guessing even those of us with normal vision might not tolerate that. Thanks for sharing!

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