Spring has been a teasing thing this year. One day I’m in a t-shirt ready to dig into my garden; the next day I’m bundled up because it is cold – and maybe even snowing! I am yearning for the promise of longer days, and light and sun.
I have been watching spring make its tentative debut. It is slow in coming …but the extra brewing time seems to have made the late magnolia blooms more deeply scented, and the coral hue of the quince blossoms more delicately painted. It seems the wait has me noticing the subtle detail in the tiniest of changes because I am watching closely and counting the almost invisible steps of spring’s progression. My snowdrops lasted later into the season, and I have yet to enjoy the tulips, just beginning their perennial emergence and unfolding.
This whole process reminds me of H, and the watchfulness and appreciation I feel for his accomplishments. I remember when he was about 6 or 7 and we were holidaying at The Cabin, my parent’s lovely ramshackle place on the Shuswap Lakes. Craig and I were down at the lake with H and he began recklessly charging toward the dock.
He began to climb up to head out on it and then – he looked back at us…
He referenced us! He stopped and he looked at us to get our appraisal of the situation. I remember we were so amazed! This was a first for our guy and that one look back – just a glance and a pause really – which is likely taken for granted or not noticed in neurotypical development, was a huge, huge, monumental, amazing milestone.
Social referencing is the term that describes the process where infants seek out and interpret the social and emotional cues of their parents. This begins as social gazing at the face of the parent, and we as parents, are particularly responsive to this. A typically developing child references because they have the innate understanding that their parent knows more about the world than they do. As early as one year old, they are already understanding (to some degree) that their thoughts and experiences are different from other people’s thoughts and experiences and that they can draw upon this from others. In infancy, neurotypical children can interpret the emotional responses (the appraisal) of their parents to assist in forming their own emotional or social understanding of new or unfamiliar situations, people, events, or objects.
Children on the autism spectrum do not naturally borrow the appraisal of their parents or look to their responses to assist them in understanding the world around them. It is funny how I was never so aware of this – social referencing – until it was not naturally there in my son. But he learned it… finally it came, although not naturally. We had to teach this as a specific skill for H, and work to help him develop an understanding of the social meaning and information contained in a nod, smile, or thumbs-up.
Tentative at first, and then blooming into a social cognitive tool – kind of like a longed for spring…
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)