A few years ago, at the 2010 AutismOne conference, I went to a presentation by Stephen Shore, EdD, and it was about taking a look at your own autistic characteristics to gain a better understanding of your autistic child. This presentation probably made one of the more profound impacts on me and how I understand my son. It turns out that we are not so different, autism and all.
I think that one of the main characteristics of autism is the lack of eye contact and desire for social relationships, and my son is (but almost “was”) no different. I am very similar to my son in this aspect. I often find it difficult to make eye contact with people when talking to them and even more difficult to initiate the conversation. I have a hard time verbally expressing emotions and do much better writing them because I don’t have the pressure of looking at the person in the process. I sometimes even make an effort to avoid social situations altogether.
Like my son, I get easily over-stimulated, and it’s like I completely shut down. Family gatherings are especially problematic. With as many children that are often there, it gets loud and chaotic. No matter where we’re at, it’s like my son and I start to get over-stimulated at about the same time, but he seems to have a radar-like sense of where the dark and quiet places are. So I just sit down and watch my son. If he seems to “wander” off in a certain direction, I will get up and follow him. We usually end up in a quiet room, and I instantly start feeling much better. Some of my more memorable times have been hanging out with my son in a quiet room, talking (yes, actually talking) about whatever we want.
Another “autistic trait” of my son was that he would line up his Thomas trains with micrometer-like precision. If just one train was even a millimeter out of place, he would quickly and emphatically fix it. I see myself similar to this when unloading items onto the conveyor belt at the grocery store. I often catch myself lining everything so they fit perfectly and not leaving any open space on the belt. If something seems out of place, not lined up correctly, or if there is any open space on the conveyor belt, I’ll quickly fix it.
These are just a few of the more noticeable traits I have in common with my son, and there are many more “smaller” similarities. So why do I say all these things? Why do I make these comparisons? The answer to both is simple: my son. By taking such an introspective look at myself, I have gained a deeper understanding of my son. I feel as though I can really help him through his challenges because I’ve had similar challenges. I’ve always maintained (and often said) that my son has taught me as much about myself as I’ve taught him. I understand him because I understand myself. I feel such a deep connection with him that is difficult to explain. The title of Stephen Shore’s presentation reads, “The Apple Falls Not Far from the Tree.” The same could be said about me and my son, and I couldn’t be any prouder of or more grateful for the relationship we have because of it.