“Guess how much I love you?” says my son Swaran proudly as he leans over to kiss my cheek and before I can even attempt a guess, he answers his own question by saying “so much.”
This is the theme that I want to talk about on this Mothering Sunday blog post, love. Specifically, how do I know that my autistic non-verbal child loves me.
As a mother of an autistic 10-year-old child, this has never been an issue that has crossed my mind. I’ve always known that my son loves me even if he couldn’t say it, and he definitely knows how much I love him! However, I am aware that many mothers of autistic children, particularly those who are non-verbal, often worry about this. So as a mum to an autistic child who was once non-verbal, I want to share with you my experience of the love my son has shown me, even when he was not able to say it.
When my boy was unable to communicate and the world seemed like a scary, overwhelming, and confusing place, my son would reach out to me for comfort knowing instinctively that a mother’s touch can make everything feel better – We only seek out comfort from those we love and who we know love us.
It was also pointed out to me that when he was younger and was asked to engage in an activity, I was the one person whom he looked to for safekeeping of his favoured object at the time. The person he could trust. Again, another example of love. We trust those we love.
When he was very young and right through to today, my son has been making mental notes of many of my habits. He will often surprise me and get my bag out or my shoes ready when he knows I will need them. If I say in conversation to someone else that I fancy a cup of tea, if my son is in earshot, he will run to get my favourite mug out ready! Wanting to be helpful and making these small gestures are such a beautiful way to show someone you love and appreciate them.
My son has never had difficulties being cuddled or giving hugs, and although sometimes he did so for sensory feedback, there were always those spontaneous hugs and they always came when I needed them, if that isn’t love what is?!
As his communication modality became established, he could make his wants and needs known, and he created sentences using his Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) where he would make it known “I want mummy.” Being wanted, definitely made me feel loved!
As many parents of children with special educational needs will know, it can sometimes feel that we are forever battling for our children to receive the right education. I am certainly no stranger to such battles, and fought successfully on more than one occasion, for my son to receive the special educational provision he required. My efforts were rewarded in the most wonderful of ways when he learnt to write, and his fine motor skills and handwriting developed to the point when he wrote independently on his whiteboard “Swaran loves mummy.” As his speech and language therapy helped him develop his communication skills further including his speech, he began to say “mummy is the best mummy in the world” and “only mummy “love mummy so much.” If your child tells you, using their preferred communication modality that they love you, you can feel confident that they do!
Although my son now has speech, there are many other nonverbal ways in which he continues to show his love and affection. If I say I’m not feeling well, he will straight away take my hand and rub it better or throw a blanket over me! I also know that when he has been masking all day to give him the space with low demands, and this is rewarded with a lot of hugs and kisses. My son has a pattern which only he understands but on certain days I get so many kisses ranging from 15 a day to 29!
This year, to mark Mothering Sunday, my son and I, along with my own mother are planning to enjoy the day together and have a posh child friendly afternoon tea lined up. I am not sure who is more excited, me or Swaran! This is something I would never have dreamed was possible at one point.
So on this Mothering Sunday, which can be a very hard day for many of us for a variety of reasons, but if you are a mum to an autistic child and feeling the weight of today and society’s expectations of how we should mark this day, I hope that my own story reminds you that our autistic children show us love and gratitude all year round, it just may look a little different.
Thank you to Tasha Lowrie of Dream Box Education for suggesting this blog topic to me when I was looking for inspiration!
By Mandy Aulak – Mother of an autistic childMandy Aulak, Solicitor
Director and Co-Founder, Talem Law
Specialist in Employment Law & SEN/Disability