I don’t want to get all maudlin, but I remember being told when Raymond was diagnosed that he would never be able to express his emotions, or say I love you, or do any of the normal emotional feedback things that kids normally do for their parents. I thought “wow, that’s going to be hard.” I wondered how that would affect my resolve parenting him, and if it would ruin our relationship.

Luckily, neither my wife nor I really believed what we were told. We didn’t believe what we read in some articles either, that autistics don’t feel the same emotions or cannot feel. I thought from the outset that was crap, and my wife and I decided, almost subconsciously because we never spoke of it, to show our son as much love as we could find.

We have, for almost 6 years now, told Raymond every day that we love him. We praise him for his accomplishments, tell him we are proud, and do everything we can to build him up. We don’t make things up, nor do we overstate his accomplishments. We simply compliment him on overcoming his very real challenges and praise him for doing the right thing, no matter how small that right thing may be.

We haven’t done it alone. Raymond’s grandparents do the same, even though we’ve never asked them to do so. Raymond’s teachers and therapists are also in on it, even though we don’t verbally request they compliment him. There is something about understanding his difficulties that makes you want to praise him, and if you show him you care he works even harder to make sense of his world and relate it to us on his terms.

As a reward for our diligence, Raymond is expressing emotions in ways I never imagined. He tells us when he is upset. He tells us when he is afraid. Most rewarding of all, he tells us he loves us. He doesn’t just tell us once. He tells us every day.

He told us before he could say it out loud though. He said it nonverbally, in his eyes or with his hugs. I know, from a clinical standpoint, those hugs are regulating to his sensory system. However, they are also regulating for his emotional system, and he can show us love.

My point is simply this: If anyone has told you that your child is incapable of feeling, they are wrong. Love is an innate emotion, but emotional expression is learned. Teach your child how to love, and he will pay you back in spades.

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