Autism, frustration and three kisses

Tulika Prasad


It was a usual start of the day: the third day of sleepless night for my son and me, the struggles with brushing his teeth, the challenges with his breakfast and finally helping him dress and get ready for school. Nothing new about it. As parents of kids with special needs, certain challenges get so routine, they don’t seem challenges anymore until you see a neurotypical child and parent go through their day and wonder, “Hmmm… so that’s how it would have looked like!”

What made my day frustrating was the constant calling of places to figure out a place to send my son for summer camp that fits my budget and my needs, and still not being able to find one. That, followed by all the bickering with the insurance on what they would and would not cover for my son. To add to the list, I was trying to put in place an in-home ABA program for my son which I was not having a lot of success with. Needless to say, by the time my son came back from school, I was exhausted and at the edge of my patience.

This was also the time when my son felt the constant need to ask for a plastic straw that he could stim on, chew up and then ask for another one in less than a minute. I had not given him free access to my stash of straws only to ensure some rationing. But now I was almost regretting my decision. While I was trying to talk to people over the phone and figure something out, he was persistent in his requests for the straws, making it unable for me to concentrate on anything else. So finally, I lost it. I think I slammed the phone, gave my son a handful of straws and told him I was not talking to him. I was tired and that clearly showed on my face and my voice. I wanted a break from it all and I knew I could get none and it made me sad and mad and everything in between.

I turned my face away from my son -- a trick a behavior therapist had once told me about -- to show my discontent with the whole situation. I realized that it was not my poor boy’s fault that this day had turned out to be the way it did but his incessant request for a straw every few seconds was just the last straw (no pun intended)!

I was on the brink of crying when my son reached out his tiny little hands, held my face between his palms and said, “Mumma, stop.” He says that whenever he wants a certain something to “go away,” and at this point of time he wanted his mom’s anger to go away. Then he pulled my cheeks closer and gave me three loud, sloppy kisses with a very clearly emphasized “muaah” sound.

Now, just to give you a context, my son has never, never ever spontaneously given me a kiss. Never. This was huge! Not just did my frustration fizz away, I was overwhelmed by all that love; now I was crying not out of frustration but out of joy. I’ve always made him give me a kiss or asked him to say he loved me or requested him to give me a hug -- all gestures of love were asked for by me, it never was spontaneous. But this. Not only did he realize that mom was upset, he also knew how to bribe her and not just bribe her, bribe her good with that loud articulation of a kiss sound. Oh, I could get upset with him every few minutes if this is what’s going to follow.

If someone told me that kids on the spectrum did not show emotions or empathize, I would have a hard time believing that. They may not know how to show those emotions all the time or in ways we are used to seeing, but that does not mean they lack emotions and empathy. Sometime what we see is not what it actually is. My son taught me this with his kiss.

When someone cannot communicate well, it’s easy to assume a lot of things about them, it’s easy to assume that they are insignificant, invisible, irrelevant and insensitive simply because they have no way to express themselves. My son shattered that myth for me and for many like him.

For me it was that kiss, for you it might be something else. If we look closely, we will find the connection we have been thinking, is missing in people on the spectrum. They are not insensitive. They do love and care. They just don’t know how to sometimes.


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