I have openly shared before that my 13 year-old son is Autistic, bordering on Asperger’s Syndrome – for those that still use those labels. We talk about it openly with him and others as teaching moments for all of us.
One of the things for him is he has a very hard time with emotions. Understanding them, expressing them, knowing the nuances of the different emotions are all difficult for him. He can feel and understand anger and contentment pretty well, but even the nuances of anger – is it frustration? aggravation? anxiety? escape him.
A few months ago I realized we really needed to start working on some of these things. He has never liked to be touched, except on his terms. Even as a baby he would scream, kick and cry if you picked him up. He far preferred to lay on the floor where we were but not be touched. This has kind of stuck with him as he has grown. He does not naturally hug anyone and I can count the number of times he has spontaneously said, “I love you,” on one hand. I love my children and want to hug them all the time. But, I have learned it is not what he likes so I have learned to not push him with it.
After a problem a few weeks ago he admitted he did not always know that we love him despite our saying it many times a day. We talked about the ways we show love to him and how we may get mad at him from time to time and not like his choices or actions but that we always love HIM. We decided to come to sort of middle ground on the hugs and I love you so that he could draw on those as reminders that we really do love him, always.
Every night before bed he now comes and hugs me and says, “I love you.” It is not spontaneous. I know it is becoming a rote action, but we all think it is helping. He is calmer at night and he is going to bed in a positive mind frame. He is totally in control of the hug, how long it lasts, how hard he squeezes, but he is doing it.
It makes me cry sitting here writing about it. It is just not natural for him and I hope one day it will be. But, until then I will take my scheduled hugs and “I love you” for the wonderful thing they are.