Everyone shows love in different ways. Children with special needs are no different in that regard, maybe even hardwired to be more different than usual. While Williams Syndrome is associated with a “cocktail party personality,” one of the defining characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder is a challenge to make typical social cues. Down Syndrome literature is full of descriptions of bubbly personalities. Not to mention individual personalities that create an endless rainbow of lovey-dovey possibilities. When it comes to showing love, these kids are all over the map just like the rest of us.
My son has a developmental disability described in the literature as being associated with “a gentle personality,” but he’s not very affectionate. Not that most nine-year-old kids are, but the frequency and ease with which my daughter can wax poetic on how much she loves her family provides a stark contrast at times.
Mostly I’m fine with that, despite my hallucinatory desire for parenting to be one long version of “Guess How Much I Love You.” There are small, subtle signs and I take them where I can get them. Like holding hands on the sidewalk because he’s nervous about falling. Like the 16-step hug I get when carrying him up to bed at the end of a long day. Every once in a while he’ll climb into my lap after dinner and lean back for a few seconds, letting his body sink into mine; I sit so still, not shifting, barely breathing, soaking it up.
In my needier moments, I flat out ask for affection, sometimes with success, most often not. In the minutes before he falls asleep, when he sometimes seems so clear and able to recall details about his day or ask questions that reveal an inner world much richer than I give him credit for, I’ll take a chance and ask if he loves me, hoping that in this moment of quiet and clarity he’ll indulge me. Last night, as we lay in the dark after reading the Best Buy flyer for the 100th time, I gave it a shot.
“Do you love me?” I asked. “Yes,” he sighed. “How much?” I prodded greedily. “One more minute,” he replied. I was confused and a little disappointed. Then I realized that in his life, “one more minute” are often the best words he can hear — words of permission to continue with a favorite activity after his protest over my request that we stop. As in: “Time to turn off the TV,” I’ll say. He’ll whine. “OK, one more minute.” Like that.
Pushing my luck, I asked, “You love me one more minute?”
“Yes,” he said, sighed, turned his back, and fell asleep.
Dear sweet boy, I love you one more minute…and back.
I love you and your writing one more minute. You and your boy are beautiful vessels of learning for me and others blessed to be in your world. Thank you, my dear friend.
Thank you! Yesterday I came across some notes I took several years ago during a day with Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Most of what we’re attached to is too small for us. It diminishes us.” Suddenly that attachment to a storybook parenting experience seems like a clinging to something that is way too small. To paraphrase my other favorite, Pema Chodron: How did we get so lucky to be awakened to a bigger life?
There’s no shame or greed in asking for a little love – it just makes you human. And his figuring out a way to say it was full of love and full of humanity. I am sitting here full of love for you both.
And us for you!
I may be an adult and bigger than my mom and have Asperger Syndrome, but I still love to have her scratch my back and brush my hair. I lay my head on her lap or shoulder if I’m stressed or tired. When I was little, we expressed our love by stretching our arms as wide as we could saying, “I love you this much.” Some Aspies have a more difficult time expressing their feelings, but once you figure out how they express their affection, you’re golden.
Allie, your comment made me reflect that as an adult woman who is supposedly “neurotypical” (whatever that means), I am not at all physically or verbally affectionate with my own mother and haven’t been for years. (Maybe it’s just a habit that we never formed, I don’t know.) Thanks for pointing out how complicated this whole shebang is. Sounds like your situation is a little less complicated than mine, actually! Love that.
Such a precious moment. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks for reading!
Cristin, just read this with a big smile and a little tear on my face. Love you and LOVE G. Honestly, you need to find an illustrator to share your Show me love story in a colorful book. So many would appreciate it and connect with it. xxx
Sorry, anonymous is me, Natalie (in London)
You are so sweet for saying that and for sharing the post. These kinds of beautiful moments happen to me all the time now and I am really starting to wonder how I got so lucky! Hugs to baby E and R.
This is such a precious post. As a Mom I can so relate to this post. Sometimes I have been known to sneak into my boys rooms after they are asleep and cuddle them. My youngest son, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t hold eye contact like my older son did when he was little. When he was a baby I so longed for him to look deep into my eyes so I could see his love for me. I finally realized that he is a unique little person and learned to feel love the way he shows love. May God bless you with many “one more minutes” with your sweet son.
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