When I was 8 years old, I got some money from a few different relatives for Christmas. I had $48. My parents were nice enough to exchange that for a brand new, never before seen, exciting $50 bill. I had never owned one before. My brothers and sister and I were promised a trip to Fashion Fair Mall the day after Christmas, to buy what we wanted... with our own money. I put my money in an envelope, so I wouldn't lose it and headed to the record store. I wanted to buy Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on LP. It was to be the first piece of music I'd ever bought with my own money. I was ready.
I do not profess to be an expert on MineCraft, so please dismiss any factual errors in the MineCraft mythos that may follow.
Jack has been playing MineCraft (the mobile version) for the last 18 or so months. He started to grow out of Star Wars and back into MineCraft around the beginning of Summer. He's very good at it. He tries to include others in his worlds (I believe they are called "mods"). He fears the EnderDragon and won't even speak of the SlenderMan. I must say that I am impressed at his level of dedication to building his world.
A few days ago, Jack sat me down to show me all the crap he had acquired or crafted in the game. A bounty of hard work and dedication from the last 10 or so weeks. He seemed most proud of his diamond sword and armor. He lamented that he had not found lapis lazuli yet. I, dismissively, told him to keep looking.
I admired his hard work. I was proud that he had stuck with something, even when it proved to be difficult. I championed that he had not given up.
I pretended to care about finding lapis lazuli.
He was proud.
More importantly, he wanted my approval... a gigantic milestone in a child with a perspective processing disorder like autism.
He cared what I thought.
Let me write that again...
He cared what I thought.
It is often said that autistic children (and adults) lack empathy. It is also often misunderstood that they lack emotion. Most children (my son included) have a very healthy relationship with their emotions as they relate to themselves, but cannot see them in others. They don't disregard them (psychopath), they don't use them only to advance themselves (narcissist) they simply don't recognize another perspective in the first place. Remember, autism is Greek for "self-ness".
So, it is not unusual for a child to be sad, happy, nervous, and express it... but it might be difficult to recognize that in another.
Empathy - noun - The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or pathos of another.
Pathos - Suffering.
Somewhere in between the car and Sam Goody records, I dropped my envelope with my $50 bill. I looked for hours. I never found it. I got a new pair of gloves for Christmas. They were too big. The envelope must have slipped out of my hands because I wasn't used to the gloves yet. It was all their fault. I wished I had never got those gloves.
Jack came home from swim camp yesterday and was in a bit of a testy mood. He wanted to be alone and work on his MineCraft. Twenty minutes later I heard from his room the repeated cries of "no"!!!
I went to his room and Jack was under a blanket crying. Sobbing. Big fat ugly tears. Now, I've seen him cry a million times... because he wanted something, because he dropped something on his foot, because he didn't know how else to express himself... but there was something different.
"It's all gone. I forgot to save my stuff in my chest and I fell in a hole and it's all gone! My diamond armor, even my diamond sword. It's all gone. I'm so stupid. I worked so hard to get it all. How could I forget? I hate myself."
He was fairly inconsolable, but I caught something in there... he was blaming himself! He was taking responsibility for his error... and was sad about it.
I asked him if there was a way to get it back and he said "no". I fought the urge to pick up to console and try to find a way to get his stuff back...
But nobody gave me my $50 back.
And then he said it...
"I wish I had never learned to play MineCraft"
Jack got a new aide for Summer School. He had to say good-bye to his old aide on the last day of school. I wrote about it on the Facebook page.
But, she was in his Summer School classroom with her new student. So he didn't really have to say "good-bye" until the last day of summer school.
When he came home that day, he was sad and quiet. He wouldn't tell me why.
Eventually he asked me
"Daddy, why did you make me meet Ms Melissa?"
"I don't understand"
"If I had never met her, I would have never had to say good-bye"
and I responded with the only thing I could muster up... a quote from a song by Garth Brooks.
"Well, then you would have had to miss the dance, Son"
Jack started re-building his MineCraft mod hours later.
Jack started dancing with Ms. Melanie (his new aide) instantly.
I, however, never wore those gloves again.
Who really has the problem recognizing the suffering in others???