I actually love and find joy in the fact that my son takes the meaning of words very literally. I just love the way he thinks! Let me give you a few examples. One time that sticks out in my mind was when Javan was younger, maybe 2?, and I asked him to pick up his toys. So, he picked some up. And then stood there holding them. And looking at me like, “Now what?” The other day, we were at his grandparents’ house and I was so very tired. He knew that it was about time for us to leave and I told him to give them bye-bye love. I yawned and commented that I was about to “drop off.” His eyes went as round as saucers and he came over and gave me a hug. I then realized that he thought I meant I was going to drop him off instead of taking him home with me. Oh, I wish I could remember more. There are so many more.

I can say that, in general, we’ve come to realize that people almost never say what we really mean. For instance, I used to get so mad when Javan would dig his elbow or toe or whatever into me when he was getting up off my lap – I know you mamas out there can relate to me on this one. I would get so mad because I had told him umpteen million times that it hurts me when he does that. The problem with that is in Aspergian thinking (and maybe to a smaller degree male thinking in general) is pure logic. Not emotion. Not empathy. “It hurts me when you push off me with your elbow” has no logical follow-through action for him. It’s just a statement of fact. Instead, I have to say, “Do not push off my body with any part of your body when you get up.” And even that isn’t usually enough. People with Asperger’s lack empathy – they may not always care what hurts you. In fact, I don’t even think Javan really truly understands that pushing off me with his elbow hurts…because it doesn’t hurt him. He doesn’t feel it. So the sad fact is that with these kids, sometimes the only way to get them to “empathize,” or do actions that mimic empathy, is to make what they’re doing hurt them. A time out, a spanking, taking away a favorite tv show, whatever. The point is, he will more easily remember not to elbow me in the gut when he gets up because he knows it will hurt him. It is not easy for him to remember not to do it if the only reason for not doing it is to avoid hurting me, because he doesn’t fully get that.

This is not to say that Javan never feels empathy. He does. But it seems easier for him to grasp the concept of a one-time, short-term pain in another person. Like a headache or a smashed finger. Or even a feeling like being angry that someone cut you off in traffic. He can and does empathize with these types of things. It’s the repetitive things that he doesn’t really think about (i.e. elbowing, or pulling my hair because the tension soothes him) or the long-term pains like my husband’s broken foot that he can’t seem to grasp and empathize with. When Hubby first broke his foot, Javan was empathetic. For that day. After that, he didn’t get it. Even with the fracture boot and the crutches, he just doesn’t get it. He wanted his Dad to take him on a walk this afternoon and pitched a whining fit when we told him repeatedly that Dad can’t because he has a broken foot. He said things like, “No, it does not hurt!” It doesn’t hurt him, therefore it doesn’t hurt. I’m guessing it would be kind of like you telling me that the sky is pink. I might believe you when it’s sunset. A one-time, short-lived pink sky. But you tell me the next day at noon that the sky is pink and I’ll think you’re full of baloney. And if you try to withhold something that I desperately want because you say the sky is pink, get ready for a fight! I get so angry (and embarrassed if we’re in public) at his self-centeredness. I say things like, “Stop whining! Can’t you see that his foot is broken? He’s in a ton of pain! And all you can think about is your walk?” But the fact is, maybe he can’t understand. At least not at this point. I’m sure it’s something he can learn, just not something he naturally intuits like other children do.

How did I get on the subject of empathy? I was supposed to be talking about taking the meaning of words and phrases literally. So, today, after much pondering and analyzing, I finally decoded the meaning of the word “skywiper.” Something that wipes the sky….hmmmm. We asked questions and figured out that he meant skyscraper! Scrape. Wipe. They can be used interchangeably in some instances. I can see where the two words can fit together in one category in his mind. However, in order to get from skyscraper to skywiper, the word scrape must first become a verb. It made me smile that my wonderful, brilliant, amazing child actually thought that the function of a skyscraper was to clean the sky! It has to be so tall so that it can reach to wipe the sky clean. What a neat idea. His brain is so much cooler than mine.


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