Having a child with autism can be mystifying. If my husband is from Mars and I'm from Venus, then my son is surely from Neptune...
So I welcome any light shed on the workings of his brain since it brings me closer to understanding him. Needless to say I was fascinated by new research claiming that kids on the spectrum respond differently to the human voice.
Often it's a case of science confirming what we as parents already know in our guts. Most days when my husband returns from work, our kindergartener blatantly ignores him. My son loves his daddy and doesn't have a hearing impairment, yet often he just doesn't seem to register when people are speaking directly to him, even when they are in his space and calling him by name.
Although selective hearing is a symptom of his disorder, it can be incredibly frustrating, galling even. But thanks to some clever team at Stanford, we now know the issue stems from the connectors between voice and emotional-based learning. For so-called typical kids, the human voice induces the feel-good chemical dopamine. Not so for kids with autism.
So if the pay-off isn't the actual act of communicating, then what? Although I hate the idea of having to 'bribe' my son into tuning in, so be it. People hold little appeal, or at least less appeal than ideas and objects. He loves looking at photo albums, but not for the same reasons I do. While I may reminisce about the places and people in my life, my son is equally nostalgic and sentimental—staring past the smiling faces in the foreground at whatever barely visible toys happen to be scattered in the background.
It's not that he's unemotional. As far as I can see the feelings are there alright; he simply doesn't engage them, most likely because they evade his understanding. Every so often, though, the clouds shift and my little guy will utter something utterly remarkable (and utterly mundane for most kids) and—like the dad whose son recently gave him this unforgettable Father's Day message—my world will shift on its axis.
I know, I'm lucky my son has words at all. I'm lucky he can say my name and put his arms around me. Still, I am greedy, always desperate for more connection. Hope, after all, is addictive.
So while science brings me closer to understanding my son's behaviour, it's not necessarily easier to accept. Like any parent, I worry. How will my boy connect and make friends if he can't communicate in this basic way? And will this failure make him lonely, depressed?
I have no answers. But I am glad someone out there is trying to find them.