Autism with imagination and affection

Boy hugging his mother. Photo by Someone's Mum

Gorgeous boy, you don’t yet understand stereotypes.

But people are already judging you by them, stereotypes like these –

People with autism have limited imaginations. Autistic children do not play and pretend like others their age. They are trapped in a literal world where the nuances of fantasy and imagery escape them.

People with autism do not feel as others do; they have no empathy. Affection and love are alien and unwanted. The parents of autistic children must feel the absence of that affection so keenly; they must long for hugs and kisses, to feel that unconditional love, as other parents do.

Before they even know your name, before they know that you enjoy absurd humour and word games, before they know your age or what you love, people will judge you by those stereotypes.

The dangerous thing about labels is that they sometimes have a grain of truth, a nugget of reality that is twisted or meaningless out of context – but it is a truth people like to cling on to. It is familiar. It is easy. That is why stereotypes become so widespread.

It’s true, you imagine differently. When playing with Play-Doh at a Preschool group you become so agitated. Play-Doh isn’t food. You can’t make ice creams and cakes and houses out of it. It is Play-Doh. The other children play easily. They make trees and butterflies and people.

You will not. Because it is Play-Doh. You like to turn cars over and watch their wheels spin. You don’t like to pretend they are driving on a road.

But, at home, on your terms, your imagination runs wild.

“Mummy, what if, instead of being on the floor, the sofa was on the ceiling?”

When I tell you that you cannot watch more television until after lunch, and that I have hidden the remote, your imagination is right there:

“I will turn you into a remote-control mummy, and I will press your buttons and turn the TV back on!”

In the kitchen, which is long and thin, we are on the back of a dinosaur.

Walking home from the shops, you imagine the trees have all turned pink, just like in nonsense land.

You are the most imaginative person I know.

The nuances of body language and non-verbal communication have never come easily to you. Even now, you do not point at things properly, using your whole hand to gesture generally. You do not know how to kiss. You try, pursing your lips in strange ways; copying does not come easily.

Body language is meant to be universal but, for you, it is like trying to learn a new language – something obscure and forgotton – like Latin.

People’s faces do not make sense. When you express your love and affection it is sometimes idiosyncratic, like mistakes in grammar and syntax when speaking a new language.

Holding hands in a busy place, your little finger circles my palm because you are anxious. When you run to greet me after nursery, you do not throw your arms around me, like the other boys and girls might. You turn around and place your back towards me, pressing as hard as you can. If I am sitting, you do the same, reversing in between my legs and pressing yourself backwards.

After a long day at your assessment appointments, your baby sister screaming and screaming without respite, with people telling me about all the things you find hard, all the things you can’t do, I break.

A sob escapes as I park the car and I can hold it in no longer.

You have learned my biggest emotions first, because they are most important to you – and so you know what that sob means.

“Mummy! Mummy! You can’t be sad. Please mummy you can’t be sad. Everything is ok. You will be ok. Your bubba is here! Your bubba’s got you!”

I hear my own words of comfort, repeated back to me, as your little face crumples with fear and despair, and I know you know what it means for another to feel heartbroken. Sometimes, emotions are just hard to translate.

You feel love and pain and you love me as fiercely as I love you.

Littlest and Biggest holding hands in a wood


I am finishing drying off your baby sister, after her bath. I can hear you and daddy, making your way up the stairs, ready for yours.

“Are you going to show Mummy what you learned?”

“Yes Daddy. Let’s get up the stairs and show Mummy!”

“Oh I think she is going to like it very much.”

I wonder what you have learned. A new word. To take off your own T-shirt. A new song.  I wait patiently. As you reach the top of the stairs, I turn.

You throw your arms around my neck.

You press your whole body into me, just like you always do, but this time your arm squeeze so tightly. You hold it for several seconds and then you release me and say:

“Mummy, daddy showed me how to do a proper hug!”

It is the first time YOU have ever hugged ME. It is the best hug of my life.

It felt like a moment of pure comfort, pure tranquillity – because hugging is my natural language, not yours.

I will remember it along with the other most magical moments of my life – saying ‘I do’, looking into your eyes, into your sister’s eyes for the first time.

Even though you are in a world where everyone speaks Latin, you learn to translate it, a little more, every day. It is slow and painful. The language is difficult and everybody expects you to just know it – because everybody else does. But you keep learning. You keep trying.

Your spirit, your affection, your imagination – they could not be clearer to me.

And you give the best hugs.


To learn more about our autism journey, take a look at my post popular posts on autism: ‘Not Less’ and ‘Autism? More like bad parenting.’

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18 thoughts on “Autism with imagination and affection

  1. Another fantastic post 🙂 I love your style of writing, as I’m reading I get a picture in my head of how delightful your little boy is 🙂 My daughter has stumped her Paediatrician because of her “fantastic imagination,” I say that the spectrum is so wide that of course these children can have a great imagination! When she hugs (on her terms) it’s the tightest and most loving hug – a post we can relate to so much 🙂 x

  2. First the hugs are learned, not spontaneous, then people with autism can learn to be spontaneous with affection. My 8yo hugs and kisses like a pro and usually at the right moments!
    Hang on in there through the tough stuff xxx

  3. Oh what an absolute emotional roller coaster of a post, and how awesome to get that Hug. I think with blogs like yours which raise awareness about autism and special needs are so important to change stereotypes.
    Beautiful post xx

    I found you via Huffington Port, by the way. Well done x

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment and your kind words. Lovely to know people do click through from Huffington too! ☺

  4. I literally felt that first hug in my heart. Such a beautiful post and the way that you use language to compare how your little man is trying to learn makes it click with me, and helps me to understand autism in a much clearer way than I ever have before. Thank you for sharing your story xx

  5. I think someone must be cutting onions near me…

    Seriously, this is a great post. You’re so right about the assumptions people make and how they simultaneously do and don’t apply to autistic people. Just because someone is different, doesn’t mean they’re lacking.


  6. I don’t usually get emotional reading blog posts but this is just beautiful and even I couldn’t hold back the tears. I’m so happy you got a cuddle from your gorgeous boy. Thank you for sharing with #bigpinklink x

  7. Really love this post…brings back memories of the first time I got a proper hug from my son last year….it was a very special, emotional moment, one that I always treasure xxx

  8. This is lovely x
    Label or no label we are all so different.
    I guess we all make shortcut judgments about people to a certain extent – but ideally we are open to have our preconceptions changed.

  9. Lovely post and there are so many different facets to autism, so many ways that each child can have similar traits but be so, so individual.
    My two are both diagnosed with autism but at either end of a vast spectrum.
    One giving and receiving hugs freely, for the other it’s an incline of the head.
    Both individual, both special, I’m so pleased you got yours too.
    Thanks for linking up with #SSAmazingAchievements

  10. I think I am misunderstanding a little = was there something wrong with the way your boy gave hugs? Are backwards hugs not real? I am pleased he learned your love language but I am sad that his way of giving affection was considered ‘wrong’ or ‘inadequate’ enough that he was excited to learn how to give ‘real’ hugs.

    1. I very clearly say that hugs are my language. I enjoy them. At no point did I ever say the way he hugs is wrong. I love his backwards hugs too. Am I not allowed to enjoy both? And for that to be a special moment because it was the first time I had got a different sort and he had put his arms around me? He was absolutely delighted by it too. He was excited because he is ALWAYS excited to learn new things. I am not sure why we have to read negativity into something that brought us both pleasure and was related to our love and bond.

      The whole post is about how his language is not wrong – just different – and how it is unfair that people misjudge him for it. I think you are misunderstanding a lot.

      I think maybe you should read the rest of my posts before deciding that I have ever given my son the impression that anything related to his different way of thinking – or mine – was wrong. My whole site is dedicated to the opposite of that.

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