Tag Archives | compassion

Empathy and Autism are like Superman and Clark Kent

Have you ever noticed that you never see Superman and Clark Kent in the same place at the same time? That’s rather odd, isn’t it?

They both exist, although you only see Superman from time to time where as you see Clark Kent quite often. They definitely do seem quite different though… Superman holds his shoulders up high, stands tall… seems to handle people well. Clark Kent on the other hand tends to slouch, keep his head down and isn’t exactly the coolest person in the group.

I got to thinking about it, if my son was that guy… then empathy would be his Superman persona and his Autistic traits would be his Clark Kent.

Clark Kent

My wife and I have had a very trying couple of weeks… mounting stresses over mounting stresses. Nothing life threatening, we still have our health however, eventually, stresses have a way of breaking you down.

This is what happened to my wife. Eventually, one day, it became too much and she began to cry.

As I held her, my two sons sat on the couch… playing games.

After a couple of minutes, Tyler, my 3 year old without Autism, put down his game and came to us. He put his arms around us and asked his mommy what was wrong. “Mommy, why are you crying?” he asked.

Meanwhile, there on the couch sat my little Clark Kent. He knows his mom is crying. He knows that there must be something wrong, but he doesn’t even give us a second look. He just sat there, playing his game.

Superman LogoSuperman

From time to time, I get to see the superhero emerge… when he’s needed.

Most of the time, it’s for his little brother. When Tyler is hurt, or upset… Cameron is there. Whether it be due to actual empathy or Cameron not wanting to get into trouble…. he consoles his little brother. It’s not always for one reason or another but it can be hard to tell which is which sometimes.

There’s something you need to understand about Clark Kent… even though all you can see is the slouched shoulders, lowered head and introverted nature, Superman is in there.

Clark Kent won’t stand up tall but he’s still bullet proof. You just can’t see it.

Looking for Superman

Nobody looks for Clark Kent. When someone is hurt or in need, nobody expects Clark Kent to answer. They want Superman. And it can be so disappointing when he doesn’t come.

When Cameron sat on that couch, it was disappointing that he didn’t come to his mother. Not surprising, but disappointing.

We are never upset by it though, never judging. We understand… we know… empathy is in there. Inside that little slouched boy with his head down, playing his game… Superman is in there.

He didn’t give us a second look… but he did look once. He did show his concern, in his way.

When you don’t know that Clark Kent is Superman, you don’t look for Superman within him. But when you do know, you can see it plain as day. You no longer see the glasses or the posture… you see Superman, in a disguise. You see him look to the danger and make the decision to show up as Superman, or to let it be as Clark Kent.

I see empathy in my son. I see it every day and I see him make those decisions every day.

Never assume something isn’t there just because it’s well disguised. When he’s ready, Superman will be there.

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This is how my son shows compassion in an Autistic way

When Cameron was 1, we took him to McDonalds because that’s just what parents do… children love that place, right? Well, it proved to be a complete fail. We didn’t even know he had Autism then but he knew it… he refused to eat anything they had and refused to join in with the other children in the Play Place. He enjoyed watching the other children play but didn’t really get in there.

We didn’t take him back for a long time after that… until his younger brother was old enough.

Fast forward a few years, Cameron is now 5 and his little brother (Tyler) is 3 and we felt it would be a good time to give it another try. Suffice to say, this time it went far better. We brought food for Cameron, Tyler will eat just about anything there. And they both played in the Play Place. They had a blast!

Yesterday we went again and while they played, I noticed a boy back inside the restaurant with his mom… his name is Jack. He was in Cameron’s class last year but not this year. He was also the one boy that Cameron identified with most last year.

Jack is almost double Cameron’s age, and quite a bright child but also what you would consider lower functioning. I was unsure whether or not they’d even allow it but I went back into the restaurant to say hi and mention that Cameron would love it if Jack would come play with him in the Play Place.

They got up and came in with us… Cameron was so very happy to see him. But they were so awkward looking… like they didn’t even know how to say hi to each other.

It was very obvious that the loud, echo filled, brightly coloured, children filled room was too much for Jack as he paced back and forth on his tip toes and flapping his arms… his mother was not concerned. I asked if he’s ok as he passed by, he said yes and kept going…

What impressed me most was that Cameron stopped going into the slides to play… he stayed with Jack. He didn’t talk to Jack, he didn’t pace… he just sort of hung around and waited.

When Jack felt ready, he approached Cameron and together they both when inside and popped out at the bottom of a slide together. Jack went straight back to stimming… Cameron went right back to waiting.

I was so very proud of my boy. He didn’t ask if he was ok, or try to console him, he didn’t even approach him… but he waited.

Again, Jack was ready and off they went and appeared down the slide once again. This time Jack had a great smile on his face as he went back to stimming.

Tyler went with them when they went but he didn’t stick around to wait. He was up and down those slides while Cameron waited.

Boys in a bubble

Boys in a bubble

All 3 of them ended up at the end of one of the tunnels at one point, together. I got a picture but all you can see is Jack’s red sweater.

As it came time to go, I left feeling very proud of Cameron. He was extremely shy about me approaching Jack, he was extremely shy about saying hi and he was extremely shy about talking to Jack when Jack was clearly needing to take some time to himself.

But he was patient and he was there for him. He didn’t leave Jack behind, he didn’t give up on him.

Cameron talked about Jack the rest of the day. He was just so very happy that Jack was there. Even though it meant only going back into the thing 3 times when he could have done so much more… he was just so happy to have a friend with him.

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