Autism and Affection

I remember when we were first starting to wonder about Maggie.  That summer that she regressed and was so often “in her own little world.”  The big scary ‘A’ word was floated about.  It seemed like it could fit.  Except for the giant life raft that I clung to like it was the last boat in the ocean – “She can’t have autism – she’s too affectionate!!”

I was so misinformed.  And in denial.  And also so incredibly lucky.

Lucky to have the sweetest, huggiest, smiliest girl on the planet.  Full of affection.

Maggie is quick to jump in our laps for a cuddle, always lets me smother her with kisses, and has the very best smiles.  Yes, some of her cuddles and squeezes can be attributed to sensory-seeking behaviour, and she is famous for her “backwards hugs” in which she turns her back to you and lets you hug her, after we ask for a hug.  But there is no question in my mind that she shows affection.

I always say the same things to Maggie when I am tucking her in, and wait for her to copy each step before I go onto the next.  She is pretty good at it when she isn’t stalling for more snuggle time.  One of the steps is when I kiss her on the cheek, and I ask her to kiss my cheek.  For awhile she was copying that part quite well, but lately it’s just been me giving her kisses.  And if I make a kissie noise anytime she is around, she will run over and let me kiss her on the cheek.  But never has there been a spontaneous kiss from her.

But this weekend when I was sick with a migraine, and it was just the two of us home sitting on the couch, she gave me the best get-well present before she jumped up to play the computer.  She was starting to get up, and then she leaned over and gave me 4 kisses on the cheek before running off.  I don’t know if she saw the sad state of affairs of me clutching my bucket and ice pack, and felt bad for me, or if she was feeling lonely that the rest of the family disappeared before she woke up.  Whatever the reason, it was the best medicine I could ever receive.

Tonight we were sitting together in the living room chair when she leaned over and planted a big smooch on my cheek and said “Give a kiss.”  It was really sweet.  She completely hammed it up when I pulled out my phone to try and capture a picture of it.  I thought she would be distracted by the phone, but instead she covered my cheek with kisses while eyeballing the phone screen.

Empathy is another emotion that is often associated with being a struggle for those on the autism spectrum.  It is another controversial characteristic that has been used to paint everyone with too wide a brush.  Maggie often shows empathy.  She often laughs when people run into things too, but isn’t that the entire basis of the success of America’s Funniest Videos?  I think we’d be better to focus on the lack of empathy in society overall.

Last night Molly was yelling about going to bed and I went in to tuck Maggie in.  She put her arm around my neck and clutched me like I was her teddy bear, while repeating “Molly so sad.”  She wipes our tears away when we cry, and she says “Are you okay?” and rubs our backs when we get hurt.

Yes, she may not be saying things such as “I see your point about why it makes you angry when I dump out the contents of the pantry – I will be more sensitive in the future,” but you can’t tell me that she doesn’t have empathy.

I know how lucky we are to have the sweetness of Maggie, but I really appreciate it when I get reminder gifts like I did tonight.  I may never wash my face again.  Or maybe I will immediately because she was eating sour cream and onion chips before she kissed me, and I got coated in it.  She missed that day at finishing school.


  1. says

    Tara, Thanks so much for your post about empathy in kids on the spectrum. I want to write about that in my new blog, Parental Intelligence, (http::// It’s so very important. Can I reach you to learn more from your unique perspective?

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