I remember the day Angel used the word “sorry” spontaneously AND in context. It was right after he stepped on my foot and I yelled out in pain. My outburst startled him but I was in pain and I only had the presence of mind to concentrate on how I felt. The last thing I was thinking about in that moment was how my reaction affected him.
That was until I heard him say “Sowee.” My heart melted. It melted even more when he said, “Wha’ happen? Okay?” Then he said, “hug… awww” as he wrapped his little arms around my neck. Next, he planted a kiss on my cheek. I had no choice but to forget my pain. I responded by saying, “okay” in my most reassuring voice. At that point, I needed to let him know that I was not angry with him. As soon as I said okay, he ran off to play. In his mind, all was well… and it was.
Angel has been doing this a lot lately. Sometimes it is a result of him bumping into one of us or it is a result of something that has nothing to do with him. For me, his reactions are a milestone. They are dispelling the common myth that people with autism do not and can not feel empathy. If Angel’s reaction to my pain is not empathy, then I do not know what is.
Two emotions that Angel has reactions to are anger and expressions of pain in others. What fascinates me is his need to be reassured that all is well afterward.
Anyone who believes that people with autism can not feel for others is sadly mistaken. Yes, autism is a spectrum and it manifest itself in various in each person but I know from my experiences with Angel that he is in tuned to when things are not right with us.
Angel shows his love for us in many ways and he is trusting. Sometimes too trusting and this is why I am so afraid to trust many people with him out of my sight.
As I write this post, I have to reference an article written last month by in Liane Kupferberg Carter in the Huffington Post. Carter writes:
“But empathy is a complicated construct. There is cognitive empathy, the ability to read other people’s feelings, but there is also affective empathy, the ability to share other people’s feelings. Just because you don’t have the social/cognitive skill to read someone else’s feelings doesn’t mean you can’t feel someone else’s pain. While it’s true that autistic people often have a harder time reading social cues, it is quite a leap — and a dangerous one — to assume that a person’s inability to interpret nonverbal cues means he doesn’t care and has no empathy.”
Angel’s expressions of cognitive and affective empathy vary. We will see how they continue to manifest as he grows older.
I am interested to know how your child expresses empathy for others. Please share in the comments below.