I was sitting down reading, it was late afternoon, when Julian walked up and said it, “So Dad, how was your day?” This was mildly startling. Julian expressing interest in how things were going for me. It’s not that he doesn’t care, I know he does. It’s the fact that persons with autism have such a difficult time with matters such as feeling empathy or the concerns of others.
One of the reasons is their inability to pick up on social cues; reading facial expressions, correctly picking up on body language, knowing when someone is joking or being sarcastic, the list goes on and on. Probably even more of a factor is that intense, inwardly focused worldview evinced by the vast majority of persons with autism. If it’s not about their respective interests then it just doesn’t resonate as much.
We (Martina and I) have attempted to introduce the concept of thinking about others interests and feelings into Julian’s world, with limited progress, but progress nonetheless. Again, it’s not that he doesn’t feel it’s that he has a degree of social communication deficit which makes it more difficult for him to access those feelings as easily as neuro-typical persons can.
On Father’s Day Julian wanted to go to our community pool, he loves the water, and we told him that we’d probably go over in the early evening when the sun was down and it was cooler. After an enjoyable dinner with the boys Martina and I sat on our back deck with a nice bottle of wine and Sinatra playing in the background. It was a pleasant and almost blissful evening. We decided we would delay the pool by one day. Now, to tell Julian.
When we told him the initial reaction was expected. His face slightly contorted, he was confused, a bit upset. We promised he could go to the pool. Martina took his hand, and in a very calm and reassuring tone told him he would go the next day. She then looked at me and reminded Julian that it was Father’s Day. “Your dad is really enjoying sitting here on the deck and relaxing, since it’s Father’s Day don’t you think it would be nice to let him continue doing just that?”
Julian looked at me, frowned, then smiled and said, “Okay, of course. I’m sorry Dad.” It was clear that his emotions were swinging back and forth. He wanted to understand but he was unhappy that he wouldn’t be going to the pool. He went into the house only to return moments later, still searching for a comfortable resolution in his mind. He pronounced, “I’m okay. I don’t have to go.” However his body language said something else. He was clearly anxious and obviously interested in still trying to negotiate that trip to the pool. I was ready to give in and take him but we’d decided this would be a good opportunity to make him really consider someone else’s feelings.
After several trips in and out of the house, with us continually reminding him that today was for dad, he finally decided he needed to go for a walk. I felt sorry for him but I knew we needed to try this, he is going to be in a society where others may not always be interested in “his world” or his desires. We know that it’s working because of the aforementioned inquiry about how my day was going. In fact this has occurred a number of times recently. “Dad, how are you doing today?” “Dad are you happy today?” It is quite touching to look at his face as he makes such earnest efforts to think of someone else.
As for our little “exercise” regarding the pool, when he returned from his walk he was much calmer and smiling, genuinely. I was inside the house as he entered the kitchen. We talked a bit more about considering the “wants” of other people. It ended with him, unprompted, telling me he hoped I had a good Father’s Day. I told him it was good.
When he started to walk off then quickly turned around to engulf me in a hug, it became great.