This is an entry for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The entire month of April (except for Sundays) I will be blogging through the alphabet on autism-related topics to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month.
L is for Love
Love. Those who say we have no empathy claim we are not capable of it. But we already established back at letter E that Autistic empathy doesn’t always look just like non-autistic empathy so who can marvel when I suggest that Autistic love has its own flavor as well?
If you doubt that we can love, know that the only thing that has sustained me sufficiently to write thousands of words exploring autism acceptance this month is love. We are half-way through the month and I am still seeing a high number of advertisements for Autism Speaks, complete with the tragedy language. Imagine that: a whole month each year is set aside to make everyone aware of what a burden you are, how much better the world will be when there are no longer people like you in it. What could sustain me through a month of that? Love. I am writing because I love Autistic people and because I want to do what I can to increase acceptance. Yes, I promise you we can love. There are many days when love is the only thing that sustains me.
Beth Ryan writes of her Autistic daughter, “She lavishes love and affection those close to her. She loves. She loves. She loves. Don’t tell me she doesn’t love. She LOVES. Think Autistic people are incapable of loving? That says more about you than it does about the people you’re mis-characterizing.” – from ability to love: presume competence
But that is not my favorite quote from Beth about love. She makes it abundantly clear that it is selfish to demand that Autistic people express love in ways identical to the ways non-autistic people express love when she writes, “I often hear things like, “It is so sad that Autistic children can’t tell their parents that they love them.” Actually, more often I hear parents say, “I want my child to be able to tell me that he loves me.” When I think about Evie’s communication, that’s just about the furthest thing from my mind. I want to hear that her tummy hurts. I want to hear that she wants a glass of water. I want to hear that she is hungry. I want to hear the things that make her happy, scared, sad, angry, frustrated, tired. I mean “hear” figuratively, not literally. I do not care if she speaks or points to a picture or clicks an icon on her ipad or types. I want communication for Evie. I want to stop guessing at what she needs and thinks so that I can answer her needs.” – from the words i want to hear
Let that sink in for a moment. Could it be that the people who say that we Autistics don’t know how to love . . . could it be that they are the ones who need more lessons in loving? Beth gets it. Beth sees that her daughter loves and Beth sees that being there when her child needs her is more loving than wringing her hands because she has to see her daughter’s love, as it is lived out in each moment of her life, instead of getting those three words from her child? And this is what autism acceptance looks like: it looks like Beth, seeing her daughter’s love and caring more about meeting her daughter’s needs than about getting verbal confirmation of what she already knows to the core of her being: that her daughter is filled with love.
Because we are. We are filed with love. See how K says it, “The way I love? It is deep. Autism is deep love. People write it off as special interest or obsession, but even if it’s not something I can excel at, I can excel at loving what I love, loving what I do, loving who I love. Autism is being able to be consumed by love and interest, it is giving 100% because it is an insult to the thing one loves to give any less. Autism is going big or going home.” – from What autism really is
I wish I could say that anyone who is loved by an Autistic person deeply knows that they are loved, but sadly I still see that some people are unsure of the love, even in the middle of receiving it. I’ve even watched video footage of more than one mother saying they just don’t know if their child is even aware of them or knows who they are . . . while their child is clearly showing love toward their mother, even in the middle of her doubts. It is a sad thing to see.
Do not doubt it. We do love!
Researchers doubt it. And they come up with strange theories about why we don’t love. For example, some researchers depleted the oxytocin and serotonin in mice (in MICE!) and saw that they didn’t want to socialize any more, so they said that we don’t get neurochemical rewards from interacting with others. Because some mice didn’t like having the oxytocin and serotonin depleted in their brains. Seriously? Seriously??
““People with autism-spectrum disorders may not experience the normal reward the rest of us all get from being with our friends,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Malenka, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University said in a statement, “For them, social interactions can be downright painful.”” – from What the ‘Love Hormone’ Has to Do With Autism
Yes, social interactions can be painful. But it has nothing to do with mice. And I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with oxytocin. People smell funny. They are loud. They move quickly in unpredictable ways that raise my anxiety levels. They randomly touch me, often for no clear reason, and almost always without asking first. They make fun of me. They get angry. They say, “what the hell is wrong with you?” They say, “aw poor widdle baby is crying again!” And not in a comforting way; they laugh at me as they say it. They want to socialize in places with loud espresso machines. Or glaring fluorescent lights. They want to go to the mall and they laugh if they’re told the mall is scary.
But scientists don’t know any of this. They think they can learn more about how and whether we love by altering mice than by interacting with us. Who was it that finds interactions painful? Put down the mice and talk to us! We do love. And even those of us who don’t use our voices, even those of us who don’t use words at all, can tell you more about love than your hormonally-challenged mice will.