An Autism Diary

A day in the life of David Hartley

Emotional Connections

We miss you and love you very much.

Today has been a definite jumble of events and behaviors.  Especially where David has been involved.  Now I am pretty used to extreme unpradictability when it comes to David and am most often pretty prepared for it too (as prepared as one can be amongst a see of “what ifs”).  Today though was still a bit of an off day for us all.  I think part of it is that we were off routine.  That actually doesn’t matter much to my two sons (they barely even notice over half the time) but for this once organizer of even her organization system kind of girl turned fly by the seat of her pants Autism mom, it always throws me off and sets my day a bit kilter when what little I have left that I can actually schedule and count on gets thrown out or gets off track.

Another thing that didn’t help the day much was finding out that the second fish, Favorite, died too.  Thankfully my mom (who got back home today) took things really well and even laughed at the cuteness found in the innonence of it all.  In all honesty, David and Joshua had no idea what they were really doing when they started messing with the fish and the fish tank.  David was simply acting on a new discovery (there are rocks in there!) and Joshua was trying be loving and cuddly.  Trust me, they both know now though why they shouldn’t do those things with fish.  Sadly they know a little too well.  Joshua is taking it better than David is and has even sat on my lap and “helped” me make the two memory pictures for Bubbles and Favorite.  (We had to use google to look for pictures that looked like them because we hadn’t had a chance to get real pictures of them before the incident happened).

I think a lot of why Joshua has been able to recover from being so sad so easily is he is starting to really grasp the concept of God and Jesus and sees them as trusted friends and protectors so when it came time to tell him why Bubbles wasn’t brought back out at the pet shop and now also why Favorite will no longer be there at Grandma’s to greet him, I tapped into his faith and trust and told him they got to go hang out with Jesus now and he’s going to take care of them from now on.  Joshua has still cried a little off and on but he usually cheers himself up by saying something to the extent of “I miss you Bubbles/Favorite.  Have fun with Jesus.  See you later.”  To be honest it really warms my heart to hear my little 3 year old have such a trusting and open faith to be able to say things like that and truly believe them. 🙂

I have told the same things to David too but from what I can tell (mainly based on his echolalia type “conformation” when asked if he understood and his repeated breakdowns when he suddenly remembers the fish and what happened to them) I don’t think he has been able to fully grasp the concept yet.  He is still so devestated too.  He has finally grasped my repeated attempts to reassure him that it was just an accident and the fish were not mad and do not hate him.  It was breaking my heart to hear him say those things.  Also, having Grandma help set him straight that she wasn’t mad at him either helped the overall situation too.  But the pain of the actual loss still runs so deep for him.

You see, David is a very emotionally intense little guy.  He has always been remarkably intuitive and extremely connected to the emotions around him.  He doesn’t always show it well or react appropriately but he has definitely proven he has these connections on many occasions.  The big catch though has been that although the average person with these skills and abilities can usually find relating to others something that can easily become practically second nature, David’s emotions and emotional awareness are so intense that it usually overwhelms him and makes him want to run, shut down, hide, or freak out.

There are only two consistant exceptions to this rule with David.  The first is when he’s watching a show or movie.  He REALLY connects to the characters he watches.  No matter how big or small their part, they can truly have a huge impact on him.  This is one of the reasons it is so hard to find movies he can watch without him getting too overwhelmed, scared, depressed, etc.  He litterally takes on the emotions of whatever character he has connected too in the show during that particular viewing.  Good or bad, intense or light.

A good example of this is when I first let him watch A Bug’s Life by Disney.  He was doing pretty well until that scene where the rain started coming down and all the little ants were screaming in terror as they ran for cover.  David was litterally screaming in honest terror right along with them as he desperately ran back and forth across the living room.  It took me quite a long time to calm him down after turning the scene off and wrapping him into my arms and lap and holding him tightly while adminstering the now ever familiar “shhhh…..” sounds into his ear as we rocked back and forth.  To this day he still doesn’t want to watch that movie… (For the record by the way, that was the first movie he had such a strong negative reaction too so I definitely didn’t do that to him on purpose.  It also was long before we found out he had Autism which has given me a bit more understanding and insight into his behaviors and “quirks”).

The second exception to the rule is when animals are present.  Unlike with the movies and shows though, David doesn’t just simply take on the emotions of the animals and blindly run with them or make them his own.  With animals, something much more beautiful happens…  he connects.  Animals make David open up, relax, flourish.  To this mom who rarely gets to see more of David than she does of his Autism and all the things caused by it, watching my son blossom like a beautiful flower in a grassy meadow is the most beautiful thing this world has to offer.

Now granted he has definitely had a few bad encounters with some animals too (a nippy dog, a flighty squirrel, a frightened cat that came out of “nowhere”) but he hasn’t been affected by it enough to truly hinder the uniterrupted flow of pure Davidness (for lack of a better word to use) that comes so easily when he encounters an animal friend.  This is especially true when it comes to horses and dogs.  Now the bigger the animal is the more there’s a chance David will need a bit of warm up time to it before just outright embracing the new friendship, but this is usually played out by him like a testing period.  His way of getting a feel of how calm and friendly (or not) the animal is before he dives in with both feet.  Once the connection is made though, it can’t be broken.

And on that note, I bring us back to his deep struggle with the loss of Bubbles and Favorite.  To David, they were not just fish or Grandma’s pets.  They were his dear and treasured friends.  He loved them with his whole heart and entire being and now they’re both gone and he can’t see them anymore.  Getting new fish isn’t enough for him.  He’ll most likely fall in love with them too but they will never be Bubbles and Favorite.

It’s times like these that I wish David was more emotionally indifferent in his interactions with the world around him like I kept being told was supposed to be common with Autism as severe as his…  Nothing breaks a mother’s heart quicker or deeper than for her to see her child’s heart break and not be able to do a thing about it…


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