Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not enough empathy or too much?

Many babies, at the moment of their birth, come out of the womb with their eyes scrunched or swollen shut. Gus came out with his eyes bulging out of his head hyper-aware of everything going on around him. Then he sort of shut down for about forty-eight hours. We were scared because he wasn't crying or waking up to eat; he just slept.

I've heard it said that kids on the spectrum can be unaware of how others feel, that they can lack empathy. I think that Gus is exactly the opposite. I think he is too aware, at least sometimes, of how people are feeling and maybe that contributes to his shutting down or melting down. Here's a prime, very common example. When MM starts crying dramatically about the injustice of having to eat dinner, and then gets fresh, and then gets sent to her room, Gus deteriorates with each stage of the game. He'll try to tell her to eat her dinner, and when that doesn't work, he'll get the deer-in-headlights look on his face. He knows what's coming. When her tantrum hits its peak, he loses it - not tantruming along with her, but the most heart-wrenching, pitiful, teary-eyed crying that I've ever seen. Sometimes he'll even say he's heartbroken. If one of his classmates gets hurt, Gus cries and frets until he knows they're okay. He's very aware of what other people are feeling even if he doesn't always get what they're saying or what their body language means.

I wonder about his level of empathy and it pains me to think that I'm having a negative effect on him because of my own issues. Since he's been out of school, he's become more and more lethargic. Coincidentally, I've been fighting a mostly losing battle to keep my own depression at bay. It dawned on me that he might be picking up some bad mojo from me now that he's home with me all day. Or maybe that's the depression talking and trying to make me think that something else is to blame on my shortcomings.

Well in the meantime, I suppose I can be glad that I know my children are both sensitive to the needs and emotions of others, and I should be fairly appreciative that he hasn't been tearing up the house since he's been home.

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