Friday, August 13, 2010
William's tender heart
My Mother-In-Law April gave me the idea for the title of this blog, with a comment she made on the last one. He does have a very tender little heart, and I could give you a million examples. I think I'll just put a few favorites here for now. Several years ago, he had this little electronic piano. It was purple. That's the one you gave him, April. Those little pianos always have demo music on them. You just push one button, and presto, it plays a tune. This one had maybe four or five songs on it. One was what I can only describe as wild gypsy music. Another was the Christmas song, Joy to the World. Now the really cool thing about it was that you could add beats, change the tempo, make it sound really fun. William used to make it play Joy to the World and slow the tempo down to the speed of a funeral dirge, and then he would BAWL his head off. He would cry inconsolably and say how sad it was. I used to really puzzle over what I should do about this. A friend suggested I throw the piano away. That made me really think. He does this on purpose, he slows it down so that it will sound sad and make him cry. He wanted to. I started thinking about things that I love, that also make me cry. One of my favorite movies in this world is The Color Purple, but it makes me cry and cry every time. And yet, I still watch it. Why? There are songs that make me cry. Books that make me cry. Why don't I avoid those? I think I figured out why. There are some things that get inside of you, things that elicit such a strong emotional response that it becomes impossible to deny the connection you feel to that thing. He made and recognized an emotional connection with that song in "Sad Mode". I didn't throw the piano away. I let him listen to it, I let him cry as much as he wanted.
People who assume or think that autistic people are without emotion are making a terrible and unfair mistake. Autism is probably one of the most inappropriately named ailments. Autistics may behave automatically in a certain way, but they are far from emotionless automatons. If anything, part of the struggle that they face constatly every day is to control the emotions that are so much stronger in them than they are in others.
William is very sweet. I remember once when he was about three, he was making some serious effort to fit in and succeed in his world. A group of older kids passed us on the sidewalk, and William waved to them and said "Hi!" They ignored him completely. He cried like his heart was going to break. He had been willing to put himself out there, make himself vulnerable, and he had been hurt for it. And yet, next time, he would still do it again. He was diagnosed with autism a few weeks before his third birthday, and I immediately started to learn what we needed to do and was trying to help him learn what he needed to learn. It has been a long hard srtruggle for all of us, but I have to say this. I have never seen anyone work so hard as William has done to overcome. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, and any number of other things, too. He was always game for it all, even though he can get very frustrated and upset, he ALWAYS keeps going and succeeds in the end.
I have to cut his hair for him, because he won't let anyone else touch him. If he thinks I'm sad, he is right in there comiserating with me, rubs my back, gives me hugs. My father died when William was 8 months old, but a couple of months ago, when we stood over my father's grave in the cemetery, he said, "this is so sad!" and started to cry. His loony cat starts howling every night when everyone has gone to bed, and William is the one who can quiet him. He is very compassionate (the rest of us want to throw shoes), and talks his cat down off the ledge. The strange thing is the cat doesn't howl if William is not in the house (sometimes he is known to do it during the day). We think he is doing it because he wants attention from none other than William. No point in howling if the kid isn't even home, I guess. He has several songs that make him cry. One of them is "When Somebody Loved Me" from Toy Story 2. During that scene in the movie, he wants "to be left alone." It is a very sad scene, and he knows it.
He fights with his brother. Sometimes he can be mean. But he doesn't like it when someone is sad. Nothing stops him in his tracks faster when fighting with Sean than to realize he hurt his brother's feelings. Suddenly, toys are shared, chairs given up willingly, and everyone is happy again.