Reading the facial expressions of others is often very difficult for people with autism spectrum disorders, making social interaction, communications, and relationships difficult at best. In an effort to help our boy decipher the many silent cues given through facial expressions, his classroom aide began working with him off and on throughout the week last year, playing games with him, making faces at him, and mimicking the faces he made. My favorite was the day he learned how to take selfies while studying facial expressions as my afternoon was sprinkled with pictures here and there of my son making faces for happy, sad, and angry.
From that exercise, he not only began to understand facial expressions, but also to develop compassion for others. In doing so, he began to comment on the moods of others. His favorite seems to be happy. Now, months later, he understands when someone is anything but happy, and makes a request that they become happy, at least enough to show him their happy face.
Have you ever tried to smile, genuinely smile, to convince a child that you truly are happy, even when you are not? It’s nearly impossible to genuinely appear happy, without relieving at least a little bit of the stress surrounding whatever circumstances were initially causing the stress.
I don’t know why my son has autism. I probably never will. That used to really bother me because in my type A planner brain, everything has a reason, a cause, and a solution. But I have had to come to a point that I can accept that this is not always the case. And that has to be okay. It is not fair to my son for me to not be okay with the fact that he is different from me, that he sees the world and processes it differently than I do, not to mention if I were to go so far as to pass a judgement on him as being inferior because of our differences. That simply would not be okay.
What I can attest to, though, is the fact that now, when my son sees me frazzled, frustrated, angry, sad, or otherwise anything less than he deems as “happy,” his response is always a very energetic, “Mommy, HAPPY!” followed by a smile that could warm the coldest heart. The response he’s looking for, the only response that will do, is eye contact (yes, eye contact) and a genuine smile. And yes, he knows the difference between an actual happy smile and a fake, let’s move on with this, type of smile. While I don’t always feel up to a genuine smile and I really don’t want to do battle with a boy who won’t take no for an answer when comes to requesting happy, I always feel the weight is a little lighter once I concede and offer up the happy smile he is after.
Really, what better request could a child make?