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.