Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sponge Cédric sensitive pants!

One of the stigmas that has long been associated with autism is that children on the spectrum don't experience empathy and don't have feelings. For a long time, they were thought of as cold and distant.
This prejudice is one of the reasons doctor maintained for a long time that Cédric was not autistic because he was "too social".
Recently, one of my friends posted an article on Facebook which presented the theory that not only do autistic children have feelings (which is obvious in Cedric's case) but that they might even feel more than neuro-typical people. According to the article, it might be the reason some of them refuse contact and shy away for other people's presence: they have such a sense of empathy and feel to such a degree that it is too intense.
Just like everything else in autism it seems, this trait can be different from one individual to the next. But personally, while reading the article, all that came to mind was that this was obvious in Cedric's case.

I call Cédric my sponge! He captures the feeling of others around him and though he doesn't respond to them as we would expect, they affect him tremendously. He doesn't console us when we cry or are frustrated, but the emotional climate of his environment dictates his mood. He absorbs what surround him. For Cédric, moods are contagious. So if the people around him are frustrated, stressed, anxious, or impatient, Cédric gets frustrated and angry easily. If on the other hand whoever is taking care if him is calm, happy and patient, Cédric stays in a good mood.

I've known this for a long time. When he was a baby, Cédric only cried when me was in pain or if another child was crying. But it was confirmed to me again during our vacation in Florida. I realized one of the reasons Cédric feels so good in Disney World is that everybody feels good in Disney World. The crowd doesn't bother him as long as the individuals who compose it are happy. In Disney World, everyone is happy, relaxed, on vacation! He only got frustrated at meal times, when he was hungry, but also when everyone around us was hungry and fighting to find a seat in the restaurants. At the water park, he is totally relaxed in the lazy river where everyone is floating around and he is happy in the small, fairly calm pool where young children are playing. We tried the wave pool, however, and even though he loved the waves and jumping with his Dad, he got upset and frustrated for no apparent reason to us... until I realized that there were many people around us and all loud and overexcited. The intensity of the emotional mood was too high and Cédric wouldn't deal with it.

The problem of a sponge is that it needs wringing. When Cédric is doing well, he reacts to our moods but recovers quickly, but when he is tired, sick, hungry, too hot, etc., he loses his ability for self-wringing. We have to change the climate around him, often physically remove him from the place, and let the sponge drip slowly. At the water park, we had to leave the pool, give him a snack, go around the river, and play with him in the small pool before he really managed to get his good mood back,

It is therefore for us a daily exercise to stay as calm as possible to avoid entering a vicious circle. Good and bad moods are contagious for him, but for us too. Cedric's moods especially so as he is very demonstrative. So if we're tired, frustrated or anxious, Cédric feels it and has tantrums, which makes us more tired and frustrated and less able to patiently deal with his behaviours, and as he feels that we're angrier, he has more tantrums, etc., etc.!
It is also an important factor in our choice of activities, visits and maybe even more in who we choose to watch him. As much as possible, we select people who are positive but most importantly patient and calm. Someone too active and intense,  even if in a good mood, always gets overwhelming for him and ends up having problems with him (difficult behaviours, tantrums, crying, ...).

The simple fact of having realized all that helps me analyze the causes of his tantrums and to remain more calm. But our patience has limits and the rest of our daily life doesn't stop in order to help us, so we exercise (and do yoga for me) and go on vacation as often as possible to recharge our batteries!

Here's the little dude, all calm and happy in a teacup :D

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