People with autism who find social interaction difficult may use their special interests to start conversations & feel relaxed
Sally, a friend of mine I used to work with, has an autistic son named Andy. (I don’t want to use their real names.) Let me provide back story here. Years ago, Sally suddenly experienced extreme weakness, sometimes to the point where she blacked out. She suffered chronic pain. Eventually she had to go on long-term disability leave from work because she couldn’t drive. The diagnosis: lupus. Putting a name to her problem relieved Sally. She understood her symptoms would flare up, but at least she knew what she battled.
Before the diagnosis, Sally described an episode in the grocery store where she suffered an attack. When Sally collapsed to the floor, Andy, a normally sweet-natured six year-old, started screaming with fear while he punched her. She held Andy close as he struggled. It amazed Sally that initially no one helped her. Sally was almost in tears as she told me feared her fellow shoppers regarded her as abusive and stayed away. Lucky they finally came to her aid.
Coping with her illness and caring for Andy was a struggle. Jerry, her now former husband, didn’t help her much— he was extremely self-centered and almost acted like Sally put on an act for attention. To add to the stress, Sally also took care of animals she rescued from kill shelters and put them up for adoption on Pet Finder. At least Jerry helped with the animals.
When I visited one evening, it amazed me how Andy interacted with dwarf bunnies. He curled on a throw rug to snuggle with them, gently petting them. They seemed to love him. Sally reasoned snuggling the bunnies soothed Andy. She let them romp free under supervision. To my surprise, Andy let me pet the bunnies. I told him I had bunnies of my own, although he didn’t react to my words.
Other than that happy interaction, Andy acted disinterested in everything but the bunnies and his favorite Thomas the Train cartoon. Sally admitted she often played the cartoon to calm down Andy. When not watching the cartoon or snuggling, Andy wandered back and forth, never making eye contact or reacting to attempts to interact. Ocassionally he would crawl into Sally’s lap to rest for a few seconds. I found it interesting how he totally ignored Jerry.
It wasn’t until I went to leave that I saw an episode similar to what Sally had experienced in the grocery store. Sally walked me to the front door. Before I reached the door, Andy ran across the room and threw himself at the door, kicking and screaming. Sally sat on the floor and held him until he calmed down. I attempted to leave again, but Andy yanked away from Sally and did the same thing.
Sally thought he liked me because I played with the bunnies. He didn’t want me to leave.
I felt awful to cause him such distress. I suggested sneaking out through the back door but it turned out the lock was broken— Jerry hadn’t gotten around to replacing it.
I sat down again and waited. Sally held Andy until he pulled away to return to wandering in an agitated manner. We thought I could try to leave again. This time Sally halted Andy from hitting the door. She rocked him, trying to explain to him that I needed to go home to my bunnies. This time he kept screaming and hitting her.
Sally urged me to go while she held him. I shut the door behind me, feeling shaken and sad to disrupt the family. Sally didn’t blame me, but I still felt guilty. Andy’s outbursts truly showed me it takes a brave, loving person to raise an autistic child. Many brave loving parents raise similar children across the world.
I have no children of my own. I never wanted the responsibility. That’s why I can’t imagine how hard it is to raise an autistic child. I have nothing but admiration and awe for such parents.
The good news is once Sally divorced Jerry, as Andy grew older, he became more social. She’s coping with her lupus. Nowadays I only see Sally on Facebook, not in person, but I’ll never forget that night.
RJ, thanks for hosting this Autism Awareness Blog Hop.
Looping back to the top fact, what do you do to make yourself feel more relaxed in a social situation? Comment to win the first two books in my Dreamspinner Press Cupid series: “Cupid Knows Best” and “The Gospel According to Cher.”
Thank you for reading.