I’ve heard that some kids with autism have a difficult time identifying feelings and experiencing empathy. Adrian’s teachers and therapists in the past have spoken as if he might have that problem. I don’t agree.
Adrian is very sensitive to the emotions of the people in his environment. If another child is very upset, Adrian will often get upset too. When he sees Zee putting on a ‘show’ with fake crying and pitiful facial expressions he usually laughs at him. He seems to be able to tell when the feeling is real and serious versus fake and inconsequential, and he responds accordingly.
One of the first pages I gave Adrian in print and on his device was a ‘feelings’ page so he could express how he was feeling. Most who have seen it think he could never connect the images to the feelings. It’s too abstract for someone with autism. But, I think they’re wrong.
Adrian has used the feeling page in the past in an appropriate way. He can do his signs for emotions to go with each of emotion icons. He makes the connection between the emotion, the sign and the icon. He gets it.
Today Adrian was watching ‘An American Tail’, you know, the movie about the little mouse getting lost on the trip to America with his family. Adrian watched the part where the little mouse is lost and the father is agonizing over it. He made the sign for sad – complete with frown. He understood that was the emotion the father was feeling right then and communicated it.
It just reminded me that the autism stereotype doesn’t support this and made me think of all the folks who have assumed Adrian doesn’t understand emotions and doesn’t have empathy. I’m sure Adrian isn’t the only one suffering from this stereotype.