Monday, November 30, 2020

Recognizing How Autistic Children Express Love

Love!
Image © Farid Iqbal Ibrahim | Flickr / Creative Commons
[image: The fingers of two silhouetted hands forming a heart shape.]


Ann Memmott
annsautism.blogspot.com

I want to talk about how autistic children might express love for their parents or carers. 

A well known book about 'five love languages' says that these languages are:

  1. Words of affection.
  2. Doing things for someone
  3. Giving gifts
  4. Quality time together
  5. Physical touch

It's certainly true that there may be a good few autistic young people who express their love for their closest family using one or more of those.

But there are other 'languages of love' in autistic communities:

1) "I love you, so I won't cause you a brain event by overloading you with eye contact and other social/sensory stuff."

But of course in the world of non-autistic people, this may be deemed rude, aloof, 'in their own world.'  A misunderstanding.

2. "I love you, so I will download information for you. Here it is. This is what I cherish, and so I am sharing it with you as an act of togetherness."

But of course in the world of non-autistic people, this may be deemed irrelevant, emotionless, inappropriate, boring.

3. "I love you, so I will give you space. I know that when I am upset, it helps me to have space and quiet, so I will offer this to you too."

But of course in the world of non-autistic people, this may be  interpreted as callous, unfeeling.

4. "I love you, so I will use a favourite cartoon, advert, book quote or similar, and repeat lines from that. You'll know that it's about people loving one another, about a happy family, about a wonderful relationship."

But, alas, so often people think it's meaningless repetition.

I'm quite often with parents who say to me, "My child will never love me. They'll never be able to tell me that they care about me. It's hearbreaking."

And there is their lovely autistic child, using all these autistic 'love languages,' sure that the parent recognises them.

One of the most important things autistic people can offer to parents is interpretation skills. Interpreting our culture, our way of communicating. Preventing misunderstandings. Helping families to learn one another's languages of love and caring.

So many parents grieve, thinking there is no love.

Look again.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Do You Want to Play?: A Children’s Book on Autistic Play Written by Autistics

Cover of the book Do You Want to Play: Making Friends With an Autistic Kid. The background is purple on the top and white on the bottom. On the left is a large illustration of white kid with short curly red hair bedecked  with a  blue bow, holding a yellow toy dump truck, and looking at the viewer
[image: Cover of the book Do You Want to Play: Making Friends With
an Autistic Kid. The background is purple on the top and white on the bottom.
On the left is a large illustration of white kid with short curly red hair bedecked
with a  blue bow, holding a yellow toy dump truck, and looking at the viewer.]

Jess L. Cowing
jesslcowing.com

“Sometimes it’s nice just being beside you…”

As publishers continue to release and market books that pathologize autistic kids such as Finding S.A.M. by Mary Bleckwehl, it is refreshing when a children’s book about autism includes an autistic character who is just an ordinary kid playing in the sandbox after school. So often depictions of autistic children for non-autistic people portray autistic kids as oddities and problems who must conform to neurotypical social norms in order to make friends and build community. 


Written by Daniel Share-Strom with a foreword by Maxine Share, and with illustrations from Naghmeh Afshinjah, Do You Want to Play? offers readers ways to reimagine shared experiences that do not pathologize autistic kids as problems, but instead encourage creative play between autistic and non-autistic kids as just another aspect of social negotiations on the playground.

 

Do You Want to Play? flips the script for how autistics are always expected to adapt to neurotypical social norms and expectations. Main character Jamie is playing after school, and when she sees a boy that she does not know, she attempts to play cars with him. Jamie learns from her friend Caroline that this boy named Dylan is autistic, and her friend suggests that that might be the reason he “doesn’t play with anyone.” 


For most of the book, Jamie is confused because Dylan does not play with her in the way she expects. But autism is not the barrier to playing; rather, as the author suggests, Jamie’s confusion prompts a quest where she tries out different kinds of play that might initiate a friendship. As Jamie posits early on, if “but.. he liked cars…/and I liked cars…/…so we could be friends, right?!”

 

Do You Want to Play? is not about an autistic kid conforming to his peers’ expectations, but rather, follows Jamie, the narrator and non-autistic kid, as she takes the initiative to meet Dylan where he is, lining up cars in the sandbox beside him. Dylan remains in the sandbox most of the story and Jamie is the one who approaches him, attempts to play, leaves, and then comes back when she thinks of a compatible way to share the sandbox. 


Dylan’s introduction even occurs upside down—that is, the unique format of the book requires the reader at two different points to physically turn the book upside down to read Dylan’s narrative as if to emphasize the moves people are required to make to shift their focus to a different perspective. And while Dylan speaks only at the end of the story to consent to Jamie’s request to play, he communicates throughout the story via actions beyond conversation. For example, at one point, he returns Jamie’s favorite yellow truck to her after she thinks it is lost.

 

As Jamie swings next to her friend Caroline, she realizes that there are different ways to play and share time with someone, or as Caroline states, “I like when you push me, but swinging beside you is nice, too.” Jamie latches on to the idea of being “beside someone” as a way of engaging and interacting, and decides to try that approach with Dylan. Eventually, Jamie plays next to Dylan and they share the sandbox together, Jamie playing with trucks next to Dylan who lines up cars.

 

Ultimately, Do You Want to Play? models how to build friendships through shared interests and negotiated interaction. Dylan is not singled out for being weird, he just happens to be different in an interesting way that Jamie is invested in accommodating and adapting for. Eventually Jamie recognizes how playing beside Dylan is also an equally valid way to play with cars that she just had not considered before. 

Even so, Jamie is still the narrator, and I wonder what Dylan’s narration of this experience would be. As refreshing as this book is, it would be great to see more children’s books also written by autistic people and that include multiple autistic and neurodivergent characters including autistic girls of color and autistic adults, not as metaphors or points of inspiration for neurotypical people, but as regular humans just living their lives, and sometimes playing with cars in a sandbox.