I have been reflecting on love. Both how my princess shows this and how we ensure she feels and understands love. My princess has trouble showing any affection. As an example, the rarity of hugs is so sparse I only can remember a handful this past 12 months. Once at Christmas time and another before her surgery late last year.
We don’t look for the “l love you, Dad” or the big embrace, nor the vocal approval, gestures or small niceties. The notion of sameness, predictability, safety is what is sought, and this is what is given. This gesture of love is received, and we see this love in her through reduced anxiety, her huge smile and her ability to adapt and overcome the little things because she knows it’s pleasing to her mum and dad.
The receipt of love is quite simple: it’s called adjustment, acceptance and seeking out ways our princess feels safe and protected. Love is seen again through her engagement and interaction with her siblings. The fighting and distance subsides, and closeness and plays enter the room. The rare and extraordinary occasion is celebrated not with balloons, high fives and cake; but instead, we have a quiet word, huge praise and a well done. In our family, love is infrequently verbalized from the children. Reserved with their feelings, it’s difficult to gauge where they are at and to explore their feelings further. We deliberately express our love loudly to all our kids with text messages, verbal “I love you”s and extravagant hugs.
The “I love you” is an important routine. It’s nonnegotiable. We want our kids to feel and know they are loved. Even though it may sound forced and at times unwanted or difficult to give, the message is important, and even though hard to ascertain, appreciated or at best tolerated. We have been exploring other ways to express our love for the kids, in particular, our princess, a girl who often misses social cues and prefers her company. We have had success recently, and although we have not seen many words exchanged we defiantly have seen love exchanged.
I have spoken several times of Jenna’s grandparent’s (my mum and dad) and the deliberate learning curve they journeyed after hearing of Jenna’s autism diagnosis. The questions, study, and willingness to learn has been nothing short of a Godsend for us. We went from feeling we were doing this all on our own to having a family that openly accepted Jenna for who she is and loves her the same regardless.
I thought I’d share some of the little but extraordinary feats they did to demonstrate the love they have for her. They brought a house 18 months ago and had discussions with Jenna about her wishes and what she would like in a house. Jenna’s response was “I want my own bedroom.” A huge ask and a huge imposition — I thought, “They will humor the idea but be unable to follow though,” as the request was vast and impractical. Mum and Dad set up a bedroom for Jenna shortly after buying the house. The bedroom became her safe place, a place her dolls live, a place to change clothes, etc. But it was bigger than this to Jenna. This bedroom was a place to escape the noise and in turn a place to be noisy. Mum and Dad created an extension of her home with them. They expressed to her she belonged, she was loved. Mum and Dad let me parent my child and coped with the meltdowns and extreme behaviors. They loved her and made it OK for her to express herself or be anxious. It doesn’t stop there, though. After a meltdown, Jenna is always quite sheepish, embarrassed and at times ashamed. Mum and Dad always took the time to understand the why. They also made the time talk to her and help her work through other ways to express concerns.
It’s an obscure way to show love, but one of my favorites and one Grandad takes much pride in is teaching our princess sarcasm, which often passes her by, sometimes leaving her embarrassed or uncomfortable. Dad patiently takes the time to explore the hidden meanings of jokes and even gets her to practice on him her latest script she is learning. In addition, Mum and Dad take the time to listen to her jokes. They laugh with her, not at her, and connect with her at her level. This is a special and dear time that she doesn’t do with any other people.
The little things scream “I love you” to Jenna. There is always Zooper Doopers in the freezer. Being a fussy eater, Mum and Dad have learned her staples of party meat pies and mac and cheese. It’s always offered, and it’s never too much trouble to cook her a separate meal or allow her to eat after the others have finished.
My favorite expression of love this year is time. Mum and Dad have invested in our princess. They have been there for her, changed plans for her and made room in their house for her. Because of this investment we have seen an acceleration of her skill set that we thought was years away. They’ve shown her love by giving her the best gift ever, time. Thanks, Mum and Dad.
Follow this journey on My ASD Princess.
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