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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Recently I came across some moving posts by parents with newly diagnosed Autistic children. One of the concerns expressed by many of these people is that their child will never love them. This fear is understandable when you look at the typical ASD presentation of non engagement, lack of eye contact, avoidance of physical contact, non verbal, and some very hard to like behaviours, such as meltdowns. When your child is happy to go to anyone who shows them attention and stimulation, or avoids all people with equal measure. Including those who most love and care for them, it is hard to consider that your role in their world is anything other than pragmatic. This goes against the social expectation of give and receive. We invest emotionally in our children and the pay back is the love returned. The ways in which we perceive that love tends to be in contrast to the behaviours listed above. Expressions of connection come in the form of eye contact, smiles, hugs and kisses, words, joining and engaging. The things ASD kids don't normally do.

Here's my take on this. You can't measure the level of emotional connection from Autistic children based on neurotypical expectations of attachment. Throw out everything you know and expect about how we express love and closeness and start again. But don't stop showing your adoration. Don't assume your child is a lost cause who will never feel and express a bond with you. Assume they feel the same love, they just do not have the skills, comprehension or inclination to show it.

One post I read a short time ago shared the story of a mother who tried to hug her ASD child every night before he went to bed and was pushed away. Then, just last week, at 8 years of age, as he was taking himself off to bed walked up to his mum and kissed her. She was so dumbstruck she was rendered speechless. He clearly loved her and it had taken him some time to work out that this physical contact was a way of expressing affection. Once this understanding sunk in he was keen to show his love. It was there all along, it just seems he hadn't yet made the connections. He had not been able to comprehend the value of this act. Who knows what it was that led to this seemingly sudden comprehension. The mum sure as hell didn't care what. She finally had confirmation of the one thing that mattered. He cared.

So I choose to assume my child and I are engaged in a mutually adoring relationship. I'm the more demonstrative of the two, with lots of snatched kisses and fought off hugs. He gets better at showing his attachment as time goes on. Today during his therapy session he was asked, do you want to go to mummy? And on that prompt came hurtling towards me, full smile, into my outstretched arms. As soon as I had him encircled he struggled to free himself, but those few seconds of  connection were enough to show me that I do hold a special place in his heart. I'll take that. Even if that's all I'm going to get.


  1. For a lot of children on the spectrum lack of affection is not one of the obvious signs. I know a lot of kids and I guees most in our circles are in the Aspie rang. These kida do show affection and articulate it well.

    My kids (19 months apart and 1 grade) were the only two siblings who would hug each other as they passed on the oval on the way to/from PE. The teachers were highly amused with the "I love you's" exchanged. And only the oldest is on the spectrum.

    Oh, and it was in the younger years - so not cool now.

  2. Thanks Madmother, I know it can cause confusion for some parents when their kids get an ASD dx and they find it hard to believe because their children are affectionate. But I do think many, probably the majority, of ASD kids struggle with articulation of emotions and with physical expression. The chat forums I visit have parents who discuss this issue a lot.

  3. I'll take whatever I can get from my son. It took time for me to figure out his emotions and he just lacks the ability to articulate them. Its become much better as he's gotten older.