Susan's Blog

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Be careful of projection

Nat came home and had a snack, after his snack Nat joined N for a 45min walk around the area. Upon their arrival at the house, Nat came with N, D, and me to the grocery store to pick up some dinner ingredients for the remainder of the week…— Very Abridged Notes from the caregiver, 5/2/12

I often think about how I learned to connect with Nat. There were three components: observation, education, and projection.  First — all his life — I would observe him, plunge deeply into my interactions with him just to gain a comprehensive knowledge of his ways. When he was a baby, I would do what any mother does — sit on the floor with him, gather him onto my lap, talk to him, read, sing to him — and watch and learn. We all get to know our babies and kids, whether we know it or not. They’re utterly familiar strangers, no matter how their neurology flows.

Over the years I have educated myself about people in general and autism specifically. The best thing I ever did I think was first to watch Amanda Bagg’s video In My Language, for the biggest brain explosion of my life. There Amanda — non-verbal and autistic — typed out what she thinks about her perception of things and why she stims, what she gets out of it, what things look and feel like to her. Why we have no right or even justification to impose neurotypical mores on her. I remember she says something about how beautiful running water is to her, something like that, and she kind of pities the NTs for not being able to feel that same fascination. After that, because of Internet communities, I was able to befriend certain adult autistics and ask questions about what does this or that feel like, what do you think about this, what should I do about that. And I also went to a few ASAN meetings where I listened to the conversations of autistic adults, and got a sense of what it’s like to perceive differently and more importantly, to be perceived as less than other people. That was and is my education in being autistic, all so that I could consider new things about Nat.

Projection, however, is neither intuitive nor cerebral. By projection, I mean imagining and hoping based on what I feel. I feel something when I’m around Nat, and who knows where the feeling comes from — could be him, could be me, could be both — and I make an assumption about its meaning. Because of the wide range of possibilities, however, projection is the most difficult aspect to get right. Where do my feelings end and yours begin? This can be hard to determine for some of us.

I have said before that depression is a part of my life experience, as is mood swinging in general. So sometimes I wonder if the sad feelings I had during Nat’s babyhood were about my own depression, or about realizing that there was “something wrong” with my baby. The nebulous borders of emotion are tricky and treacherous, but they can also be joyous. For the times that I have felt closeness to Nat, the times where I suddenly “get” him and he gets me — can there be anything better, in a mother’s life?

So just now as I was walking downstairs after waking up Ben for school, I found myself thinking happily about that particular routine, Ben’s, where I get up at 6, make coffee and his lunch, and then wander upstairs at 6:45 to get him up. He and I both know there will be several more wakings before he shuffles into the shower. It’s almost a game. And after I walk back downstairs, I feel happy for no particular reason, eager about the new day. It was this that made me think of Nat, and his day. Last night I’d read those shift notes from his caregiver, and saw all that he does, and this morning I wondered if he was happy with that. I felt a pang inside, worried. What if he isn’t happy, and no one knows it? That same old irritating sharp fear, like a tendonitis in my heart. But then, wonderfully, I remembered something: I’m the one with depression, not him. I’m the one who has trouble with certain boring routines, and other times I absolutely adore them.

Why should I assume that anything I experience is the way Nat does? Just as projection once aided me in connecting with Nat, in realizing back then that he is just a boy and not a puzzle or monster, it may also be getting in the way of my letting him go. He’s separate, different from me, grown up, and apparently happy.


You dance this dance so exquisitely, Susan. It’s enlightening and beautiful at the same time —watching you take this stone and turn it over and over to see all the facets. I learn so much from you.

— added by Niksmom on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:42 am

wow wow wow. Susan, you hit the nail on the head again. Thank you. Know that you’re not projecting when you get that reading this made me happy 🙂

— added by Lisa G on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

LOL, Lisa.

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 9:05 am

Yes, yes, yes! The old mind-reading game.

I love hearing about this time in your life and how you are navigating it and how Nat is doing. Thanks for sharing!

— added by Louise Kinross on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

I like that you tried to step into Nat’s world rather than pull him into yours. I am high functioning ASD and as such spend too much energy adapting to the “normal” social environment. It is a one way effort with very few attempting to step into my universe.

— added by Bob C on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm

It’s all about love, man.

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm