Monday, June 27, 2011

Emotions...or Lack Thereof

I watched an episode of Flashpoint a few nights ago. I like the show, for although it is about an elite SWAT-type unit, there isn't gore, cut-up bodies, sex or bad words. (I don't get a kickback for endorsing the show :)  ) The reason I even mention it is because the person they were dealing with was obviously not a psychopath as first believed, but a young man with autism or aspergers. When they went to his apartment, they found a bulletin board with captions of emotions..fear, sadness, anger, happiness. Under each caption, were pictures of people showing the corresponding emotions.
This led to a long conversation with Kalisha's sister, Kari, about Kalisha, and her inability to show lots of emotions. I realize that autistic children and adults are often described as not having much emotions. From my observation of Kalisha, I believe she has some of the emotions; just does not know how to express them or which ones are appropriate to the situation. They are also buried so deeply, they do not bubble to the surface as most people's do.
A few "for instances": If you told me that I was going to meet Tim McGraw (sigh) face to face, I would be ecstatic. I would woo-hoo and dance around the living room. Then I would call everyone I know to tell them about it. If I told Kalisha that she was going to meet Joseph Addai ( her favorite Indianapolis Colts player), she would smile and say, "Great!" She wouldn't jump around or call anyone. That doesn't mean she wouldn't be excited. I think she would be VERY EXCITED, inside, but unable to show it outwardly.
She had a birthday party when she was 10. Several of the girls in her class came and brought gifts, of course. I watched her open them and although I knew she was excited about the party and liked the gifts, her expression never changed. I did the protective mom thing and kept assuring the girls that she loved their gifts and it was just what she wanted. I will write about her complete truthfulness and lack of tact in another post, but suffice it to say that if she had not liked one of the gifts, she certainly would have said so. We did lots of practicing and role playing before that party.

When she was little, people would often tell her to smile for a picture. Then you would get something like this.

It was what she thought people wanted.

Even when she would smile a nice smile, it was many times inappropriate to the situation. I remember her approaching my friend, whose mother had recently died. Trying to make conversation, Kalisha asked, "So, are you sad that your mom died?" This would have been an okay question if she had not been smiling from ear to ear when she asked it. My friend understood and graciously continued the conversation, but many people are really offended when she asks a sad question with a smile. Over the years, we have rehearsed the correct and acceptable way to ask the sad questions. That doesn't mean that she feels the right emotion, but she has learned to navigate the world of emotions in an acceptable way.
Kalisha does not cry either, at least not the way that you or I do. I have only seen actual tears a few times in her life. She has been sad enough to cry, but it is embodied in a scrunched up face with no sounds coming out. That makes me sad, because I wish she could cry tears over some of the hurts she has endured.
Surprise? I have never seen a surprised look on Kalisha's face. Even when she opens a gift and it is something she has really wanted, the most I will get is, "Thanks Mom."
I am happy that the one emotion she has mastered is smiling. You will rarely see a full-blown belly laugh, but she does smile when she is happy.
She will get angry occasionally, but doesn't show anger like other people do, either. She has had to really work at reading other people's emotions. Some times she will ask me, "Mom, are you mad at me?" Believe me, my other 4 children never had to ask if I was upset with them. They could read my face very well.  :)
She tries to get it right. She asked me before my surgery if I was scared. I don't think I looked or acted like I was, but she was aware that that would be an appropriate question in that situation.
Before I wrote this post, I told Kalisha that I was going to give her several examples and she needed to try to look the way she would react....surprised, scared, angry, sad and happy ..and I would take her picture.

As you can see, she really had to try to get any kind of expression. The last one is sad, one is surprised, one is scared and we couldn't remember exactly what the other two were supposed to be, but we laughed a lot while looking at them. I posted these pictures (with Kalisha'a permission) not to make fun of her. The intent is to show that although we discuss emotions, most of them are a learned response for Kalisha, not something that she really feels inside.

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