I love you. Those famous three little words. They mean something different to everyone.
Most “typical” individuals view love as an emotion or feeling that is just present in them naturally. A man loves his wife, a child loves her grandmother, or any number of combinations come to mind when thinking about love. Now I am not going to get all philosophical and deep about the topic of love. I will leave that discussion to the poets and romantics. I bring up the subject because many individuals on the autism spectrum have a unique way of expressing and showing love to those around them, particularly towards siblings and parents or caregivers.
Emotional expression of any type can be vague or foreign to those of us on the spectrum. Since it is often difficult for us to read and understand facial expressions, it is also difficult to gauge the emotions of other people. My youngest daughter will see her sister crying and have no response, nothing. She will not reach out to her, or even ask what is wrong. This may seem insensitive. Where is the compassion and love?
This brings me back to that word love. People on the spectrum are perfectly capable of love and all other emotions. Sometimes autistic individuals are deeply misunderstood. We can be portrayed as unfeeling, robotic, distant, and cold. People may think we are not able to experience the full range of human emotions. This is really a huge jump to conclusion without really understanding the truth.
I once had a friend ask me if I was able to cry. Of course I cry! People on the spectrum are not humanoid creatures void of feeling and emotions. I cannot speak for typical individuals, since I am far from typical. However, individuals on the spectrum experience the same emotions as the rest of the people sharing this planet. We just experience and express emotion in our own unique ways.
When I tell my oldest daughter I love her, she usually replies with “I know” or “OK.” I know she loves me. She might not say the actual words, but she shows love in other ways. She might take out the garbage, or help with the laundry when she thinks I am stressed.
This also begs the question about touching or rather hugging people with autism. We have all seen movies and television shows where autistic characters scream “Don’t touch me!.” It is true that some of us do not like to be touched. My oldest prefers a high five over a hug, and that’s okay. On the other hand, my youngest loves hugs and snuggling. Both of my girls are on the spectrum. This is why it is called a spectrum. Each individual with autism is different and unique. Just like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two autistics are the same.
Never underestimate us. We are all capable of emotion, feelings, and love. It just might be different than the typical world.