One of my earliest memories of Cameron, apart from his birth, is how he always had to be playing with my ear lobes, or my wife’s. In fact, he would get down right mad if we didn’t let him or he wasn’t able. It was such a big part of his life that he would do it in his sleep. If he fell asleep on me on the couch, or slept in our bed, his hand would wander until it found my ear even though he was fully asleep.
All children find something to do that soothes them, whether it’s sucking a thumb, holding a favourite blanket or stuffed animal… we just assumed that this was his way of soothing or comforting himself. As he got older, it became more of an issue for us as he needed it more and more, even if it meant us having to be bent over uncomfortably just so that he wouldn’t be furious.
It wasn’t until years later, after his diagnosis that we discovered that it was so much more than that. When Cameron first went to school, we came to realize that his biggest fear, his biggest issue is feeling unsafe. Not just unsafe, but that those around him are not keeping him safe.
You could argue that ‘soothing’ is a form of helping yourself feel ‘safe’ but I think it’s more than that. Cameron would not do the ear thing with just anyone, it wasn’t just a motion that helped him feel better.
He tugged on our ears because it kept us close, it kept us in contact and it made him feel safe.
More so than even that, because he was unable to speak and is still very much unable to express his stronger emotions, it was his way of saying he loves us and he needs us.
I think many people dismiss Autistics as being unable to handle and express emotions but the truth is, if we look hard enough, if we don’t look passed the little things… they are telling us, in their own way.
Cameron was telling us a lot with his cute little self soothing technique, I just didn’t know how much.