Once, when rushing out of the elevators from a publishing job, I ran so fast and in the wrong direction that I crashed into a granite wall. So I know what it is like to literally hit a wall. I sort of backed up, dazed, confused. Now I’m feeling some of that again but it’s a different wall, with my child on the autism spectrum. (see below)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Chris Moore based on the novel by Philip K Dick.
A few years ago we had a conversation about the ship Titanic. At the time, my son was not concerned about the passengers but he had a lot of empathy for the dishes. The however many tons of china that shattered. Although he has made progress in other areas, there is such a lack of empathy in him it makes you take a step back to catch your breath. I’m trying to work on it but unlike decoding figurative language with him, I don’t see how I can instill feelings in him. This is not to say he has no feelings but if he does they are mute. Then there is his fixation with himself. It’s normal for children to be focused on themselves and their needs but when they have no empathy for others or desire to make a connection, and when all of their emotions revolve around getting their narrow interest met, it is like dealing with a sociopath. He does experience empathy for animals. Friends told me I should find this comforting, but it’s not that much of a consolation because animals are uncomplicated and undemanding. The fact he relates to them doesn’t make me feel that he is more likely to eventually relate to people. It’s also difficult to know how much this is caused by his condition or the fact he is an 11-year old boy. …or if it’s also some sort of genetic predisposition (in his personality) to being inward looking, stoic. When I was growing up I had a father who didn’t show me love. I was supposed to assume/presume that “deep down” he loved me, “but just didn’t know how to express it.” I feel like I am being told by people not to “give up” and not to resign myself to having a child who is a robot. And he is young, a moving target, but there is so little empathy from him for anyone, Dad, brother, sister, friends/supposed friends?, classmates. Maybe he felt something for me because he asked what he should buy me for Mother’s Day, a comment that really shocked me after all of the time he has spent completely indifferent to us, wanting only to be in his world, alone. There is a troubling parallel between the androids in Philip K Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, and my son. In that book, the humans think they have all the real humanity/human-ness. The androids feel maybe as human like. They are different because they have artificial memories. Maybe their feelings are artificial. But look at people, regular neuronormals: Many have emotional reactions beyond what is necessary or reasonable. So maybe I am wrong to feel like he is an android, but I’m more used to emotional dysregulation in terms of other things like depression than from a lack of emotion or empathy. He noticed me typing the word autism and said, Mom do I have autism? and I finally said, well just a very mild case of it, mild. But then he said nothing more. He was not interested in knowing exactly what it was or anything about it. It’s difficult when you want to have a real conversation with your son and all you can get out of him is a nonsensical response, not because he can’t respond, exactly, but he won’t, he doesn’t want to feel anything, he isn’t able to identify any of his feelings, it is mental effort for him to respond, react, interact.