Friday, September 16, 2011

Say What You Need to Say

Most of us have noticed that kids just say things. My mom used to tell a story about my uncle, when they were kids. Apparently a, shall we say, rather large woman came to their house for dinner one day and proceeded to break a chair.

My grandparents were aghast and responded with the usual niceties. "I'm so sorry...I don't know how that could have happened..." That's when my uncle, who was in elementary school at the time piped up, "I know why it happened. It's because she's so FAT."

Kids don't mince words. And the same goes for people with autism. A difficulty understanding nuance and social cues means people on the spectrum don't always have the ability (and maybe patience?) to put on the little dances we do with our words.

...the "I'm fine," to the "How are you?" question, even if we are far from fine.
...the white lies we tell in order to preserve a friend's feelings.
...the compliments we perhaps don't really mean but rather toss out as a way to start a conversation or make an acquaintance.

People with autism, because they are so literal, say what they really mean. If they have the ability to be verbal, they are going to tell you exactly what they are thinking and exactly what they need.

"I NEED the doors," I always talk about Ethan telling me, when he was upset about me interrupting his obsession with opening and closing them. Lately, though, Ethan hasn't been talking about doors. He's been talking about the way he needs me.

"Sit with me on the couch and give me a hug," he orders before we leave for school each day. And at school as we are exchanging goodbyes: "I need a kiss."

When I told him the other night I had to go out to a meeting, his face crumpled. "No," he replied. "I need mamma. I need her."

The other day, on the couch as he played: "I need you to sit next to me." And another time, wanting a little back rub: "I need you to touch me."

Something happens to us as we grow older. We start out expressing how we really feel and get our hearts stomped on. Or maybe we say the wrong thing and hurt a friend, lose a relationship. We act ourselves and are ridiculed so we learn how to be someone else, to be a different version of ourselves. We grow weary of rejection. We forget what it's like to say unabashedly what we mean...what we need...what's right in the middle of our hearts. Instead we dance around subjects and leave subtle hints and hope desperately that someone will read between the lines.

Transparency is so risky. And there are real risks, real opportunities to be hurt.

But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to take Ethan's approach with the people I love. To throw caution into the wind and just say it. Not exploding in anger, but just expressing the needs I have down deep with those close to me with wisdom, but complete openness. Now John Mayer is running through my head: Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say...

I look at my son and I'm reminded how much we don't say, because we are afraid. Then I think that there is a better way. I think how I could live life playing fewer games, and talking maybe not necessarily more, but straight from the heart.

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