One of the most frustrating aspects of parenting a child on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum (whatever that means these days) is the incredible disparity in behavior. Since we recently moved to a new town, we have had so many situations where Edward attends an event, behaves in a rather typical way, and things go rather smoothly.
Other times his behavior is so outside-the-box that both parents and children are looking at all of us oddly. Sometimes I have to give an explanation to the parents.
It’s this roulette wheel of behavior and expectations that absolutely exhausts me. Despite my best efforts at maintaining a great sensory diet prior to the event, making sure he is well-rested and well-fed, often times my best-laid plans just fall into an abyss of tantrums, incessant questions or just abject hyperactivity.
We’ve had great experiences, however, at our neighborhood pool during the past several weeks. The combination of the water and activity coupled with frequent snack breaks makes for a relatively calm outing. I have even allowed him to run off with his brother to the other end of the pool for short periods to play hide-and-go seek with the other children their age. And he has stayed with his brother! This is a big milestone for us, because before, he would run away the first chance he felt any taste of freedom.
Yesterday, however, I learned an important lesson about how Edward sees the world. He had been playing with Joseph and two other boys we met through baseball. The older boy wears glasses, so about half the time he wears them at the pool and the other half he takes them off. All four boys were playing hide-and-go-seek peacefully, giving me a chance to help Sue with her own swimming endeavors.
When we got in the car, however, Edward started talking about there being two boys named “Joshua.” Joseph said something like, “Well, I don’t know who you are talking about. We only played with Joshua Smith. There weren’t any other boys around.” And Edward said, “Well, there was the Joshua with the glasses who is eleven and pretty tall, and then the Joshua without glasses who is also eleven and pretty tall. We played with both boys, right?”
At that moment I realized that Edward could not read the boy’s face well enough to tell that he was the same person, glasses on or off. I suddenly felt this great rush of empathy for him, and how confusing the world must be for him at times. I started to feel so bad for the frustration I feel toward him when he doesn’t recognize a friend’s parent or a teacher he’s seen many, many times.
It was a good learning experience for Joseph, too. I believe it is incredibly difficult for Joseph to have any concept regarding what the world looks like from Edward’s perspective. Because he doesn’t understand these differences, he has little patience. This event, however, gave Joseph a little taste of how Edward sees the world.
It’s a taste we all need more of…