3. Individuals with autism are not capable of showing love. This myth seemed to hold true during the first four years of Evan’s life. Then, we did not get a sense that he felt attached to us in any way. I used to wonder if he’d even notice if suddenly we were not around.
Those years, parenting him reminded me of a child with a pet goldfish. The child loves his fish. He plays with and takes care of it by providing basic needs, like food and clean water, but the fish never appears to notice the child. While it seems harsh to compare my son to a pet goldfish, in all honesty it’s the most accurate description I can think of (as painful as it is to admit).
Fortunately, as Evan got older, he started to show us his love. He did this by playing with my hair, smiling at his siblings and burying his head in his dad’s arms. More recently, he began responding to an “I love you” with “I love you, too,” but it was something we taught him to say. We were glad to hear those three words from a child we once thought might never talk. But we still wondered if he was truly capable of reciprocating our love.
Now he totally understands. He knows how it feels to be loved, and he knows how to love. He says “I love you” spontaneously (and appropriately). Sometimes, like any kid, he says it because he wants something, but mostly it’s because he loves us. Recently he crawled into bed with my husband Jon and me, and the three of us snuggled. “This is what love feels like,” Evan said. Yes, Evan gets it because that is exactly what love feels like.