Love in the Age Of Autism

imageI recently revisited a Temple Grandin TED talk, The world needs all kinds of minds, from February 2010. I have watched this before and my son and I even saw her speak on this topic at the local University. But, each time I watch it I get something new out of it. What really stuck out to me on this viewing was a question asked of her at the end. Speaking for parents, the moderator asked, “Is it unrealistic for them to hope or think that that child loves them, as some might, as most, wish?” The question crossed me as strange and I think, based on her expression it may have crossed Temple Grandin as strange too. She answered saying, “Well let me tell you, that child will be loyal, and if your house is burning down, they’re going to get you out of it.”

I have never wondered if my son loves me – not once. However, unlike his sisters, he does not show love in typical ways. Hugs, kisses, telling me I look pretty- it doesn’t happen. And, I think this is what Temple Grandin was alluding to as well. Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and messages. As a parent with an autistic child, I would hope that most of us understand this and learn our own unique spectrum child’s “Love language” to steal a moniker from the well known book series.

Often, I see how this plays out for my son by watching him interact with others. When my co-worker Lori first met my son, she reached her arms out to hug him – just as she had moments ago with my girls. He turned tail and quickly walked the other way down the hallway. Later he told me, “Mom she was kind of scary.” My friend Lori was quick to figure out why that happened though. The next time he came around work, she took him aside and offered to pay him $10 if he would fix a broken fan in her office – oh and also “pretend” to be her friend. She was talking his language now. He loves to fix things for other people. That is one of his love languages. He can’t hug you dead on but he will tirelessly work to fix something for someone else.

While my son may not show love in typical expected ways, he is very loving if you know how to see it. And, I have a feeling most spectrum kids are. I worry with questions like the one asked of Temple Grandin that we are missing the love signals those kids are sending us, particularly if we rely on what society prescribes as loving behavior.

When I am leaving, particularly if it is going to be overnight, my son will say goodbye, turn his back to me, and walk back into me. It makes me want to “beep beep beep” like a truck backing up. Be careful though, if you aren’t paying attention you might miss this. He wants a hug. Yep, my son will let you hug him from the back. He has also newly added the side lunge, where he will swipe his shoulder towards yours – that also means “you can hug me now.”

My newest work order

My newest work order

My girls love to hand out little love notes. My classroom is full of images of me and them, hand in hand with hearts floating about. “Mommy is the best teacher.” “I love mommy.” My autistic son doesn’t do this. But, he has his own form of love notes. He loves to plan and organize “exhibits for people” complete with scheduled announcements of upcoming events. He also goes through the house and generates repair reports for items that need fixing. These are the love notes my son generates for me and I cherish them as highly as the notes from my girls.


I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. If you have to get after my son over anything, you will be treated to a host of “I’m sorry,” “I won’t ever do that again,” “I am upset that I did that.” Until you are then annoyed that he says it so much, even after you have assured him it is fine. “I’m sorry I keep apologizing mom.” He hates to disappoint people. He hates to let others down. While he doesn’t overtly come across as though he is concerned about how people perceive him, his fear of letting those close to him down really pinpoints that he absolutely cares.

Last summer's exhibit schedule

Last summer’s exhibit schedule

It takes us forever to get out of the house. My son gets upset if you don’t warn him a good 30 minutes first. He has to plan and be organized. I remember one day when we were headed to the mountains. He delayed us considerably and the contents of his bag looked like he was planning for a backpackers overnight weekend in the national park. We got after him. Two hours later, his grandfather took a dive on the ground and my sons “first aid” kit came in really handy.

I could keep going on – but really all spectrum kids are different. My son’s “Love Languages” may be different than your child’s. But, my goal here is to illustrate that autistic kids, kids on the spectrum, disabled kids, they are capable of love. It’s my job as the parent to recognize the ways he does this and help him learn to capitalize on this.

And this goes beyond my relationship with him. I want my son to have loving relationships with other family members and his friends. I want him to fall madly in love and have someone fall madly in love with him. I want him to find “the one” and start a family – if that is what he wants. And I hope all those people see the deep undercurrent of love that runs through him, even if it doesn’t involve hugs, hearts, and other normal conventions that we think of as “love.”


freshlypressedWelcome Freshly Pressed Fans!

Thanks so much for reading Erin’s blog. She is one of our fourteen creative writers we have compiled to form Rocky Parenting. We hope you’ll stay and play a while with us because many times parenting is a rocky journey. At least when we can do it together, (and laugh at ourselves a bit along the way) it becomes nearly fun. You can also read our stories on our Facebook page.

Thanks – The Rocky Parenting Writers


132 thoughts on “Love in the Age Of Autism

  1. Reblogged this on a stranger in my own land and commented:
    EXACTLY! My son also shows similar expressions of love. If he gives a hug while facing you, he typically leans in and wants to touch his forehead to yours. It has been multiple years of him backing into us for a hug and he has just recently started reaching his arms around to hug us in a more typical manner. His expressions of love are unique, but I never doubt what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Wow. This is incredibly powerful and has me in tears. As a mother of 3 (one of whom was potentially autistic a year ago) this really hits home. You’ve given wonderful examples of “showing love” which defy our conventional ideas of what love looks like or acts like. Our children’s “love languages” are as unique as the children themselves. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Goodness, what a breeze of fresh air!
    And what a delightful young man!

    One day a kid with the dearest spectrum-like smarts decided that I was a pretty ok person.
    As a result he lay down on the floor and drew me an extraordinarily detailed escape route of my building, with a drawing of me getting safely out of a fire, and I taped it to the wall so he’d know that I’d know how to get away.

    (See? Dr. Grandin was right.)


    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: Love in the Age Of Autism | Life is Beautiful

  6. Wow, that was beautiful. I used to work with disabled children, some of them also with autism, and I can see what you mean. Once you know a child, you aklao know the signs that show that the child likes you. Love the way you pointed this out!


  7. Complimenti per questo blog, molto interessante ed istruttivo. Non ho un figlio autistico, ma conoscono uno di questi e so per certo, sono persone speciali!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Love in the Age Of Autism | Blog Atlantide

  9. Reblogged this on Testimony of Love and commented:
    Thank you so much for this article! It is so true that children on the spectrum show love in so many ways! My son is very similar (and I let out a loud chuckle with the “backwards hugs” mention!)… I know without a doubt that I was handpicked to be his Momma! I have been very patient, encouraging, accepting, and loving with him, and he has greatly advanced through the years (he is now 12)… but let me tell you – for as much as I have loved him and taught him, he has loved me and taught me 1,000 times more!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Love in the Age Of Autism | Ma victoire sur la schizophrénie. (Au jour le jour)

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  12. Reblogged this on 29hourday and commented:
    Living with autism is an everyday experience in our household….It is an experience that has changed me…it has shaped who I have become. It has shaped who we all have become. My son, thankfully, is happy and healthy. He is a senior in College (not with out a daily struggle) and we are so proud!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hey! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Having a autstic brother myself I used to see how much love care and attention he requires and there is no acknowledgement of the same by him. It made me jealous secretly but it never stopped me from loving him. We all love them and we are also the lucky few who have the utmost pleasure to be with them. Others might look us in different way but our way of looking has changed ever since he came in our life.


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  18. Yes, we do love. Truly, madly, deeply, and single-mindedly.

    But when you love someone, you show it by doing something real. Something that shows you’re thinking about them in a way that means that they, that person, are unique. They’re not interchangeable with anyone else. If their fan doesn’t work, you fix it because then they have a fan that works, and they will be cooler and happier. Drawing an escape plan out of a house requires you to think about that person and their surroundings; to just draw a picture of flowers or something – that could apply to anyone – doesn’t adequately express real love. It doesn’t demonstrate that you care about THAT person. What use is a picture of flowers? An escape plan, now, that could save their lives, and how better to demonstrate that you really care? Love requires that you do things that make things better for the people you care about – like having a first aid kit, just in case.

    Non-autism/asperger’s people are confusing. They say things they don’t mean, and their actions often don’t match up to their words. It’s a lot less trouble all round to do something useful, something good, that hopefully they won’t misinterpret.

    And besides, when being embraced by complete strangers (or even family members) makes your skin crawl, you kind of have to make up for that because although being polite is important, there are some things that a person shouldn’t be expected to cope with. Physical contact is something to be worked up to.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I really adored this post. As a future occupational therapist, I look forward to reading more posts from your family’s perspective! Please look at my sight to give your thoughts on a project I’m working on here in Peru- it’s against the abuse of women- Thank you for writing.


  20. Pingback: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - Books Are My Thing

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