On love, empathy, and connectedness

Close up on the palm of a man's hand holding a tiny seedling.

In Colin’s world, anything small and vulnerable can be a baby.


“Rock it,” Colin says. “Rock the baby to sleep.” This time the “baby” is a tiny seedling he’s placed in the palm of my hand. Now he cradles my hand in his, swaying it back and forth and humming Rock-a-bye Baby.

On love

Colin loves babies. He talks to them as though they can understand what he’s saying. “How old are you, baby?” “Did you cry when you were born, baby?” He doesn’t seem concerned that they don’t answer. For their part, babies seem intrigued by this large-but-not-full-sized human with giant eyes and so many questions.

Colin has his own small collection of babies. At the moment, it includes four stuffed dogs and a doll with blue hair that he found in the playground. The first of his babies was a flop-eared stuffed dog he named “Pokelyn.” The others he named Chipwich, Doglass, and Lucy. (I don’t think the doll has a name.) He takes one of his babies with him to school every day.

A small stuffed dog sticks its head out of a backpack

Pokelyn in Colin’s backpack, ready for school

On empathy

If he can’t find one of his babies, Colin becomes frantic. He blames himself; he says he’s a “bad parent” for being careless. He worries that the missing baby is “not in this world anymore.” He imagines they must be scared and lonely. He hugs and kisses them when they’re found.

A small boy is hugged by his male therapist

Colin and Aaron saying goodbye

On connectedness

Colin has a very special friendship with Aaron, one of his therapists. Unfortunately, however, Aaron is moving away. Colin wrote Aaron a farewell note. It read:

Der Aron
I love you. Il miss you for along time.
Love Colin

If you’re unfamiliar with autism, I’d ask you to keep these anecdotes about my son in mind the next time you hear someone—whether they’re a celebrity, well-regarded researcher, or just a friend or family member—say that autistic people lack empathy, that they’re not connected to others, that they’re incapable of true love.

Remember, also, that people experience and display emotions in different ways, and that doesn’t mean their emotions are any less authentic or meaningful than your own. Look for the connections. You’ll find them.

2 Comments

  1. Tiffany Dozier May 1, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    I read books that reported children with autism having “blank” stares. And it struck me as odd, because my sons gave bear hugs and gleefully laughed upon seeing family. And when I visited classrooms with other children on the spectrum, some had bright smiles, and some were detached..but not all. My oldest likes to press the side of his face to other people’s faces, that he knows well. My second son runs in place, flaps his arms and jumps when he sees his teachers. My third son yells, “Hello!” and “What’s your name?”(he’s not aware of his volume) to people he cares about. I liked reading about C and the subway. We left NYC when my oldest was 2 and 1/2, but I think he would be just as exited about all the signs and trains. Thanks for sharing.