Smell My Blanket

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed Colin trying to figure out how other people are feeling. It’s obvious to him when someone yells or gets loudly angry that they are not in a good place with their feelings, but it is the more subtle irritation, frustration or sadness that he’s studying. He doesn’t seem to care too much about any of it unless he feels that he may have done something to cause a shift from happiness to anything else.  That’s when he starts to think about it.

One of the hardest parts of Asperger’s is the inability to empathize with someone else. Colin will understand that when he feels hurt, sad or angry that he doesn’t like it. However, he is unable to make the connection that someone else with those feelings isn’t feeling good either. For example, he doesn’t understand that by walking up and smacking his brother to show him how much he loves him actually physically hurts and isn’t appreciated.  But lately, he’s been starting to try to figure it out.

A few weeks ago, I made a big mistake. I had forgotten to pick something up at the store and had to hurry to get it done before the older kids got home from school. I didn’t give Colin his usual time warning that we were heading out, instead I did what most parents can do with a typical child and said, “Hey buddy, we gotta run to the store quick. Go get your coat on!” 

Big boo boo.

He burst into tears and threw himself on the floor. So, naturally I got irritated with this behavior.

“Come on, Colin. I’m counting to 3 and if I get there, you will not get to watch TV again today!”

“NO!!!”  He begins to kick the floor and heads into a full out tantrum.

I literally picked him up by the arm and nearly dragged him into his coat. Forced him out the door and into the car where I angrily yelled at him that he had disobeyed and I was NOT happy.

Now, this is not the way to treat any child. Colin’s reactions came from the fact that I had not prepared him for the change the way I needed to and then I lost my temper because of that. So, it was all my fault.

But, as I got ready to shut his car door he tearfully said, “Mommy, I have something that might make you feel better.” And planted a big fat kiss on my cheek.

After apologizing to him for losing my temper and for not giving him enough time to prepare for the change in routine, I calmed down enough to realize that this was the very first time ever that Colin had done something like that.  He has learned to apologize for things he has done because we taught him to do that and it is a “rule” so he follows it.  Never before had he done it with the intent to make someone else feel better.  I sat and looked at him for a few minutes before he reverted to usual Colin and said “Turn it up and get the map!” (Always must have GPS going during a drive). For a few minutes, though, he’d had quite a different and softer look to him.

I saw it again today.

Colin has a flannel blanket with baseballs and bats all over it. His “Baseball Blanket.” Soft and warm, this blanket has covered him in bed since he was born and he still sleeps on top of the covers with only the Baseball Blanket on top of him. Sort of like his safety net, he carries it from his room to the living room every morning and back again every night.

Before heading off to school this morning, I asked Colin to turn off the TV. He did so willingly and then threw the remote control onto the couch. It missed, bounced and hit the floor hard. He immediately grabbed it up, looked at me and said “Sorry!”  I wasn’t angry or irritated but I must have made some kind of gesture that he interpreted as being upset at him. Suddenly he was running at me with the Baseball Blanket and shoving it in my face.

“Do you want to smell my blanket, Mommy? It’ll make you feel better. That’s what I do!”

What a challenge lies ahead in teaching this young child how to know what others are feeling. How do you teach empathy to someone who doesn’t understand his own feelings yet? We will need a lot of grace and patience as we work this out with him. 

But we’ll definitely have the Baseball Blanket along for the ride in case we need a good sniff to lift our spirits!

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shivon
    Dec 02, 2009 @ 18:34:16

    “For example, he doesn’t understand that by walking up and smacking his brother to show him how much he loves him actually physically hurts and isn’t appreciated.”<—-THIS!!! I can only say that I know exactly how great that kiss on the cheek felt. YAY!!!

    Reply

  2. tracey
    Dec 02, 2009 @ 20:57:27

    thank you for sharing this with us. He is so lucky to have you for a mom.

    Reply

  3. Nick Morton
    Dec 03, 2009 @ 07:59:26

    Audrey – you write so well, and I have no doubt that you are going to respond to this with challenge with a whole lot of grace, wisdom and good humour.

    Reply

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