It’s been a winding road to diagnosis! One big thing at the beginning that used to REALLY confuse me, and fuelled a no-way-is-Caleb-autistic belief – was that I had somehow taken on board, at some point in my life, the assumption that autism equated to a lack of emotional connection and empathy. People on this spectrum would struggle to show affection physically, to develop emotional attachments …and with a lack of eye contact too, would even be described by some experts as ‘distant loners’ or ‘head over heart decision makers’.
With this in mind, CALEB simply could NOT be autistic. NO WAY JOSE! This little boy is the MOST affectionate child on earth!
I remember on the first day of his school life, how Caleb hugged a (slightly taken aback) boy from his class at the end of the day, and called out cheerfully “I love you!” to another.
Full to bursting with a hunger to ‘connect’ with people, Caleb remains super tactile and ready to engage with anyone identified to him as a friend. There are no social nerves.
Yes, at the back of my mind grew a nagging inkling that this innocent affection was being outgrown by Caleb’s peers, that his energy was sometimes received as overbearing; Caleb wasn’t picking up on any ‘invasion’ of peoples’ personal space. Gender or age didn’t come into it either. Every friendship was special. Everyone was a potential best friend.
Well, so long as you didn’t do something unfair or unkind! Caleb’s desire to protect people and stand up for justice, was – and still is – VAST. As such, I have found his perspectives and decision making to be enormously emotionally charged too.
For a long time I felt nothing but pride for Caleb for all of the above – for not being socially conditioned. For being a wonderful role model to us all! How on earth could love, affection, integrity and enthusiasm be red-flag signs of a developmental problem?
When it comes to family, Caleb has always loved his younger brother and sisters VERY deeply too, showing extreme devotion. He welcomed each into the world with blatant adoration, and without a whiff of jealousy. If anything, it was as though he OVERLY empathised with their feelings. If I was to withhold a treat from Caleb’s younger brother because of naughty behaviour, for example, it could be Caleb’s favourite treat in the world but he would stubbornly refuse it too. It would upset him just as much as the tantruming toddler, but tears of solidarity would fall. Trying to get Caleb to understand that this was in fact a loving act on my part, and a consequence of a bad choice of behaviour, was overridden by his pain at seeing them upset. And his feelings would long continue after his toddler brother had forgotten about it and moved on happily with his day! When Caleb thinks you’ve been unfair, it’s a BIG DEAL.
Today, with a 10 month old baby sister well loved by ALL the family, it is still most often Caleb who is first to visit her when she calls out from the cot in a morning, to rush to her at the first sound of tears. And his URGENCY to safeguard her during the day to day seems as great as a true emergency would feel to me.
He will play for hours without tiring, at her level, mirroring my common words and interactions, delighting in her giggles. He never shows anger towards her. Ever.
And yet, as his 7 year old sister and 9 year old brother have grown and developed into independent thinkers, with their own game plans, ideas, hobbies and shared opinions… So it has become harder for Caleb to find common ground in every day play. Should you wish to take play in a different direction, Caleb is quick to conclude that you are deliberately trying to sabotage the ‘good time’ you have been having together, otherwise SURELY you’d be able to see that his idea is far superior! “Mum! They are spoiling it on purpose !!”
Yes! … Playful, emotionally connected, loyal, protective, physically affectionate, cheerful , energetic… ABSOLUTELY.
BUT patient? A team player? A good listener? The ability to understand another’s differing point of view during shared activity, or to follow an agenda that doesn’t interest him?… Not so much!
Caleb takes things very personally. If you disagree, debate usually leads him to suspect you are trying to upset him on purpose! That by extension you are belittling him and forcing your ideas on him. He feels frustration keenly, but struggles to recognise the signs of these same feelings in OTHERS.
I am very proud, as Caleb has matured in recent years, to see him work hard to be a member of a team, to wait his turn and to participate in activities he wouldn’t have chosen, to accept differing opinions. His mantra is “Let’s agree to disagree!”. I only hope this learned behaviour, heavily supported by some fantastic teacher role models in key stage 2 – and of course family input – will allow another side of empathy to develop.
In the meantime – Caleb feels he has failed his 9 and 7 year old siblings, for not convincing them of the merits of his No1 interests!!! 😆😜 …But God has given him a NEW BABY SISTER!! 😍 So! Poppy may have rejected Mercedes cars for Beyoncé and street dance, and Josh may not support Manchester United, or display his Lego in the way his big bro chooses to…
But Caleb has HIGH HOPES that this time, with baby Matilda, he might just be able to make a disciple of her!