Thursday, August 6, 2009

a sister

Martin loves a lot things about his sister. He says that she's cute. He likes some of her toys. He knows how to make her laugh (sometimes) and finds it hilarious. He also likes to wrestle her. Martin doesn't realize that most one-year-olds don't have wrestling moves in their skill set. It's as if he cannot imagine that she doesn't want to do what he wants to do.

This gets to the empathy problem. There have been pieces in the popular press in which writers ponder whether autism is the next leap forward for human brains. They cite the capacity to memorize and other features of many autistic people as signs for the great things that could happen between our ears. Responses to these articles are often quite dramatic, especially from people related to autistics. I recently read such a response in which the writer retorted that it was no leap forward, but rather sociopathic. She wrote of her sister who simply could not muster feelings of empathy. It was the impossible emotion. Reading stuff like this scares the daylights out of me.

Today, Martin told me that he loved me. He also wrestled his sister to the ground in a way that made her cry. Does he have empathy? I don't know. I think he senses that statements such as "I love you" make others feel good. But he doesn't seem to know what makes others feel bad.

I'm stuck. I really value empathy. And I really hope for Martin's future with other people.


  1. I have to say that I so look forward to reading your blog everyday. It is marked as a favorite that I read and everyday I wait for the star to appear that tells me there is a new post. I have always admired and adored you, so this doesn't come as a surprise to me, but you are such a wonderful parent and human being. The questions you are asking are such important questions, not just questions for someone who is on the autism spectrum but for all children. And I know that being a parent has to be extremely difficult and that at times you must feel completely inept, but I just want to say that you are not. I wish there were more parents like you and S in the world.

  2. J. and I have sometimes wondered if the next leap forward is more like Downs: abundant love, less brain power. Of course, that's being somewhat cantankerous. I've also always been fascinated by what people on the spectrum can do with their minds. Is the trade off between the two inevitable?


  3. Man, these posts are hard. This is some unrelenting thinking! I am in the midst of writing a sermon with D. on the infinite variety of creation--those dappled things--and what redemption in the light of creation's multiplicity might looks like. So, I have actually been thinking about what you've written in this blog quite a bit. I have nothing short or sweet to say now...

    I want to comment on something else.
    I spent a good deal of time worried about J. and empathy. When she was around 3 it was just really, really awful. Given family history with stuff.... I was kind of terrified. (She would laugh if I cried or got upset) She got over it. I don't know if it was a stage (S. didn't have anything really comparable.)

    But, it did really give me pause.... as I study moral insanity and all....


  4. She also totally did nasty things to S. and the dog just to make them cry.