I have been reflecting on love. Both how my princess shows this and how we ensure she feels and understands love. Like many ASD kids, my princess has trouble showing any affection. As an example, the rarity of hugs is so sparse I only can remember a handful this past 12 months. Once at Christmas time and another before her surgery late last year.
We don’t look for the ‘l love you dad’ or the big embrace, nor the vocal approval, gestures or small niceties. To be honest, we don’t seek out anything from her. The notion of sameness, predictability, safety is what is sort, and this is what is given. This gesture of love is received, and we see this love in her through reduced anxiety, her huge smile and her ability to adapt and overcome the little things because she knows it’s pleasing to her mum and dad.
The receipt of love is quite simple, its called adjustment, acceptance and seeking out ways that our princess feels safe and protected.
Love is seen again through her engagement and interaction with her siblings. The fighting, F-bomb and distance subsidies and closeness and plays enter the room. The rare and extraordinary occasion is celebrated not with balloons, high fives and cake; but instead, we have a quiet word, huge praise and a well done.
In our family, love is infrequently verbalised from the children, reserved with their feelings it’s difficult to gauge where they are at and to explore their feelings further. We deliberately express our love loudly to all our kids, text messages, verbal ‘I love you’ and extravagant hugs. The ‘I love you ….’ is an important routine that is not negotiable. Although rarely reciprocated we want our kids to feel and know they are loved. Even though it may sound forced and at times unwanted or difficult to give, the message is important and even though hard to ascertain, appreciated or at best tolerated.
We have been exploring other ways to express our love for the kids, in particular, our princess. A girl that misses social cues is awkward around others and prefers her company its a rarity to get inside her world or for her to look out.
We have had success recently and although we have not seen many words exchanged we defiantly have seen love exchanged.
I have spoken several times of Jenna’s grandparent’s (my mum and dad), and the deliberate learning curve they journeyed after hearing of Jenna’s autism diagnosis. The questions, study, and willingness to learn has been nothing short of a Godsend for us. We went from feeling we were doing this all on our own to having a family that openly accepted Jenna for who she was and loved her the same regardless.
I thought I’d share some of the little but extraordinary feats they did to demonstrate the love they have for her.
They brought a house 18months ago and had discussions with Jenna about her wishes and what she would like in a house. Jenna’s response was ‘I want my own bedroom.’ A huge ask and a huge imposition that I thought, they will humour the idea but be unable to follow though as the request was vast and impractical. Mum and Dad set up a bedroom for Jenna shortly after buying the house. The bedroom became her safe place, a place that her dolls live, a change of clothes, etc.; but it was bigger than this to Jenna. This bedroom was her safe place, a place to escape the noise and in turn a place to be noisy. Mum and Dad created an extension of her home with them. They expressed to her she belonged, she was loved.
Mum and Dad let me parent my child, and tolerated the meltdowns, swearwords and extreme behaviours. They loved her by carrying on despite those behaviours, they loved her, made it okay to express herself or be anxious. It didn’t stop there, though, behaviours pass, and Jenna is always quite sheepish afterwards, embarrassed and at time ashamed of the outbursts. Mum and Dad always took the time to understand the why. They also made the time talk to her and help her to work through other ways to express concerns.
It’s an obscure way to show love, but one of my favourite and one Grandad takes much pride in, teaching our princess sarcasm. Again like many ASD kids sarcasm passes her by. Quite often going over her head and leaving her embarrassed and uncomfortable. Dad patiently takes the time to explore the hidden meanings of jokes and even gets her to practice on him her latest script she is learning.
In addition to practising sarcasm, Mum and Dad take the time to listen to her jokes. Bad dad jokes read out of a joke book with no expression and feelings, but funny just the same. They laugh with her, not at her and connect with her at her level. This is a special and dear time that she doesn’t do with any other people.
It’s also the little things that scream ‘I love you’ to Jenna. There is always Zooper Doopers in the freezer. Being a fussy eater, mum and dad have learned her staples of party meat pies & mac and cheese, it’s always to offer, and nothing is too much trouble to cook her a separate meal or allow her to eat after the others have finished.
My favourite expression of love this year is time. Mum and Dad have invested in our princess. They have been there for her, changed plans for her and gave up their house for her. Without this time Jenna wouldn’t now be cutting with a sharp knife, cooking mac & cheese or making herself a drink. Because of this investment we have seen an acceleration of her skill set that we thought were years away (or never coming).
They showed her love by giving her the best gift ever, time.
Thanks, Mum & Dad.