Imagine you are in your room. It is quiet and comfortable. As you slip off to sleep you are confident you are safe in your own bed, among your own things. After a sound sleep, you awake to a pitch black room – a darkness so dark, not even this smallest bit of moonlight creeps in, so void of light that your ears ring. You are frightened. Your sudden awareness that you have awoken in an unfamiliar space is so invasive that you cannot decide to move or sit still. Knowing the end of your pain is only in the discovery of its origin, you place your feet on the floor and stand. You stretch your arms out and like the blind, you feel your way around the walls. Your hands follow the lines of the furniture, a bed, a dresser, a chair – slowly painting a mental picture of what the space you are trapped in must look like in the light. You feel around for a light switch, a door, a lamp – anything that might give you sight. Your palms sweat. Your mind wanders. But you eventually find the door. The light bursts in and you discover that you fell asleep at home, and awoke in someone else’s bedroom. How did you get there? Why did it come so sudden? These are questions you cannot answer, but the mere fact you are in such an intimate place as another persons bedroom, means you must find out how and why.
This process of waking up blind in another bedroom is how I experience emotions. The emotions come suddenly, with no real definition. I must feel around, tracing an image in my mind, hoping I can discover what it is. Yet once I learn what the emotion is and the light comes bursting in, I still have to find out where it came from and why.
People, like me, with autism must put tremendous effort into bonding emotion with understanding. This is why it angers me when people with autism are accused of laking empathy. It is not that we do not feel empathetic, but rather that accessing that emotion in any real reaction time is excruciatingly difficult. This process is only eased by the patience of those around us, the extension of unconditional love and the freedom to release through our special interests. So the next time you want to know how someone with autism feels about you, don’t ask them to show you with words and body language. Rather, let them show you in their own way.
Today, ask someone with autism to take you on an adventure in their world.