Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Double Edged Sword

Matthew has a special gift.  He has a way of making people feel special.  He makes them feel like they are the "chosen" ones.  When he slips his hand into theirs you can see their hearts start to melt.  I have several friends who tell me that "Matthew has me completely wrapped around his little finger."  or "I would do almost anything for him."

If he sees the neighbors to either side of us are on their porch, he will come over and wave and settle in next to them or on their lap.  If they are working in their yard or garage, he needs to come "help" or at least investigate!  At block parties (see this story for a block party break through - The Dreaded Block Party) he has learned to go up to neighbors and take their hand and lead them somewhere.  Around the campfire he snuggles into different neighbors and flashes his smile at them.  Just tonight he had a neighbor jumping him up and down, running him through the sprinkler, and dancing with him.

At church if you didn't know us, you might wonder which family Matthew belongs to because he likes to sit with other families.  He especially likes couples who are of grandparent age.  He snuggles in and rests his head on their arm.  One Sunday he fell asleep with his head in a lap.  After church the woman told me that her husband doesn't usually have the patience for children, but that he has a soft spot for Matthew.  Another church member calls Matthew a blessing.  He also has a way of getting people to rub his head by raking his hand through his hair and then grabbing their hand and putting it on his head.  If they are not doing it often enough he will just move his head back and forth while their hand is in place.

Herein lies the double edged sword. On the one hand it is wonderful that he is so loving and friendly.  It kind of breaks through the stereotype that some people have that people with autism are always in their own little world or not very affectionate.  But on the other hand he doesn't discriminate between people he knows well like church member and neighbors versus someone he doesn't know or is meeting for the first time.  When he were at a car dealership for several hours recently he became friends with several salesmen and sat on the lap of the young salesman in his early twenties.  During Abby's lacrosse season he got to know families from both our team and the opposing team.

I brought my concerns to his therapy team.  I want him to understand that there are personal boundaries and that we react to people differently depending on our relationship to them.  He has started working on a Relationship Circle.  Right now, he is just at the stage where he identifies where Mom goes (family) versus one of his friends from school.  As he masters those two, more people will be added.  Along with that will be learning which actions are appropriate to do with people from various parts of the circle.  For example it is perfectly okay to hug a grandma, but not someone we are meeting for the first time.

It will take awhile for him to understand all the pieces but I think it's important.  As he gets farther along in learning the circle, I will probably need to take it with me when we go places so he can be visually reminded of what we are working on.  I think it might help if I show people what we are working on so they realize why I might not let him sit on their lap or snuggle them.  It also might get a little confusing at church because even though most church members would technically be placed in the friend circle, there is the language that we are all in the family of God and that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.





  1. I tried sending you a comment but we lost power so I don't know if it went through. Matthew certainly has my heart. Uncle Wayne drove autistic children to school and they were nothing like our Matthew. You and Rob are great parents and messengers from God.

    1. Yes Aunt Kathy - the message went through! Hope you got your power back quickly! He has my heart too!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very good information you have shared. I really appreciate your writing.