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Autism and Confusing Faces

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…

Posted on 13 July '10 by , under Autism Spectrum/Sensory Processing.

11 Comments to “Autism and Confusing Faces”

#1 Posted by Molly (13.07.10 at 17:21 )

Wow. That is an amazing thing for me to read.

Thanks for sharing!

#2 Posted by Barbara (13.07.10 at 23:07 )

“this roulette wheel of behavior and expectations”
Excellent new metaphor for me! I might have to quote you, Elizabeth.

Also, the 2 Joshuas story is so interesting and telling of how he functions (or struggles). Empathy is the correct response, but I will have to think on if I have ever tried to address this before….who do we ask about it?
.-= Barbara´s last blog ..Late Bloomers =-.

#3 Posted by Florence (13.07.10 at 23:34 )

Well said. Often times we (or at least I) forget how different my son is because he does not look different. Then he would say or do something and it will hit me right then. I agree, we all could use to see the world through their eyes more often.

#4 Posted by kim (13.07.10 at 23:38 )

wow that is eye-opening
Honestly it made me think about all children
They all see things in their own way and it
can be so frustrating at times but a little
bit of empathy can go a long way
Thanks for the reminder
Miss you!
.-= kim´s last blog ..Shred day 20 =-.

#5 Posted by Tari (14.07.10 at 10:08 )

Awesome post! So glad you were able to “see” what E saw at that moment, and that his brother could, too. Who knows how that may help J someday – and in a way that helps E, too?

And you seem to be spending way too much time at the pool these days! It’s making me very, very jealous! 🙂
.-= Tari´s last blog ..Two on Dessert =-.

#6 Posted by Tess (15.07.10 at 14:25 )

That does make me see things differently about the subject. You can’t take things for granted.

#7 Posted by annalene (15.07.10 at 23:50 )

Hi there,

Found you on the GFC Followers group on Mom Bloggers Club. I’m now following you, please follow back when you have a chance (if you aren’t already). Thanks!

I’m looking forward to reading your updates! 🙂


#8 Posted by Patty (19.07.10 at 12:37 )

I know exactly what you mean about the behavior being normal one time and crazy the next. I have had so many people say that there is no way that Danny has autism, and then others who look at us like we are just totally out of control. I mean, I feel the same way. Some days, I am convinced Danny was misdiagnosed. His behavior is perfectly normal and he interacts well with others.

Then there are the other days. The days when it smacks me right between the eyes that yes, he probably does have autism, like the doctor said. Sigh.

The whole not recognizing people thing is fascinating. Danny has had difficulty when he sees people out of their normal environment. For example, he saw his preschool teacher at the library and wouldn’t even talk to her. I chalked it up to shyness, but part of me wondered if it just didn’t make sense to him to see Miss S. outside of school.

I would so just love a peek inside their heads so I had a better idea of what is going on in there, because you are right. The world is much different for them in some ways and I need to remember that and be empathetic.
.-= Patty´s last blog ..take me out to the ball game =-.

#9 Posted by Elizabeth (27.07.10 at 23:37 )

Yours is a fascinating post, as is Smockity’s, as are the comments. I wonder if you’ve read “Nobody Nowhere” and “Somebody Somewhere” by Donna Williams. She describes so CLEARLY how it FEELS to be autistic. Why did she soil her carpet and slash her face? Why did she walk out of the room when her father’s friend spoke to her? She tells us just what she was expressing through these and so many other behaviors.
.-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..Four-year-old Striker Scores in First Match =-.

#10 Posted by Barbara (29.07.10 at 15:07 )

I linked this post into my guest post at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. Get there through my ‘last blog’.
.-= Barbara´s last blog ..What to Ask of An Occupational Therapist =-.

#11 Posted by danette (02.08.10 at 02:10 )

What an insightful post… like Patty mentioned, we have also had times where our boys seemed confused to see someone “out of context” (like seeing a teacher at the store). I can actually relate a little to that one, not as extreme but as an example I have met people at conferences that I come to recognize just fine until I see them at the office (somewhere different), and think “gee that looks a lot like the person from the conference but I’m not sure” so I hesitate to say anything until I get some kind of cue from them…
.-= danette´s last blog ..SPD Blog Carnival- Sensory fun photos =-.

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