Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning to Love, Apserger's style

Caleb clad in his beloved lizard shirt.

My sister-in-law clutched her two-year-old son. She unleashed her grip and placed the little boy on the floor. The minute his feet hit the ground, he wailed and thrust his arms upward begging to be placed back in her embrace. Inches away, Caleb gazed at the scene with bewilderment and intrigue as if he was a scientist studying wildlife in its native habits. As he processed the images, he walked over in my direction.

In a stoic, professor-like fashion, he asked, "I've always wanted to know why children are so attached to their mothers. Do you know why?" He stood by me, waiting for my reply.

The question seems harsh, I know. If asked by another child, I would be heartbroken. But, Caleb's not like other children. He's an Asperger's child where emotions and social interactions don't appear to be as ingrained as learned. It's a puzzlement to me that he learns some things so quickly while other concepts prove to be difficult. He taught himself to read at two and was discussing the malaria crisis in Africa while still in preschool, but when it comes to emotions, well, those he just can't get.

Through the years, I've tried to teach Caleb how to love or show me love. I've showered him with kisses, but rarely received any in return. I've pulled him into hugs while he stiffens. I've said "I love you" ad nauseam and he'll reply "OK." But after his recent question, it finally dawned on me: maybe I'm the one that needs to learn about love. The truth is love isn't always expressed the same way and like so many other things, Aspies demonstrate love differently.

Deep in my heart I know Caleb loves me, but the way he expresses it isn't conventional. Caleb shows me love when he compliments my chocolate chip cookies and regards me as "the best cookie maker in the world." Caleb demonstrates love when he shares his latest lizard fact and shows me a picture in one of his favorite books. When he asked us to go to his school performances and grins when he sees us in the seats, my love tank runs over.

I'll continue to lavish Caleb with kisses, hugs, and "I love yous" because that's the way I know how to love. But, I'll learn to love his way too and cherish every one of his tender gestures.

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