Part of the reason I blog is to clear up misconceptions about autism. Last night Philip taught me about my own misconceptions towards him.
It was after dinner and I was cleaning up in the kitchen. I sometimes sing as I clean, and this evening I was singing a song I made up with from some of Philip’s common vocalizations which are not words. I’ve sang this before and thought nothing of it.
Afterwards I called Philip to the dining room for our after dinner conversation. I asked him if he wanted to ask me a question or say something. He spelled, “YOU ARE TEASING ME WHEN YOU SING LIKE THAT.” My heart sank. I had never realized I could hurt his feelings in this way. “Oh Philip. I’m so sorry. It makes me feel happy when I sing your words. How does it make you feel when I sing like that.” “SAD,” he answered. I began to see the carelessness of my actions. I apologized again. “Do you have anything else you want to say to me?” I implored. “YOU ARE TEASING ME WHEN I EAT ALONE,” he replied. It is true I sometimes serve Philip something before the rest of the family. I know what he likes to eat and it is often not what the rest of the family eats. For example tonight I made enchiladas for dinner. Philip looked hungry so I put some of the enchilada filling in a bowl and let him eat before everything was ready. When the rest of the family sat down to eat, I served everyone the enchiladas except Philip. I assumed he didn’t want any (from experience he wouldn’t touch them in the past.) Again I felt warm with shame from his response. “I’m sorry. Do I treat you too differently?” I asked. “Y (for yes). A LOT OF TIMES YOU TREAT ME DIFFERENTLY.”
It makes me sad to think of how my ignorance has hurt Philip. I have mistaken a blank face, little eye contact, and few words for not caring, not feeling, and not understanding. Oh how wrong I’ve been all these years!
It is a hard lesson for a parent to admit they are wrong, but it is necessary in the process to make things right. I told Philip it was good for him to tell me how he felt. I told him I was sorry for not being considerate of his feelings and for treating him differently. I told him I have a lot to learn and he must continue to teach me. Then I asked if he would forgive me. “Y,” he answered. We hugged and Philip leaned his head on my shoulder for some time.
There will be changes in the way I treat Philip from here on out. I will stop to consider if the way I treat him is the way I would want to be treated (The Golden Rule). I will try to treat him more like I treat his siblings by giving him the opportunity to partake in the family meal even if I don’t think he will eat it and by giving him more household responsibilities like the other kids. I will continue to give him opportunities to tell me how he feels and how we can better understand each other. And when I make a mistake, as we all do from time to time, I will try to learn the most out of it, seek forgiveness, and try not to repeat it again.
Chautauqua Institution August 2013