Monday, June 24, 2013

Thunder & Empathy

My daughter really hates thunderstorms.

No, that's not quite accurate; she hates power outages that sometimes occur with thunderstorms. So because of this association, she will state emphatically, "I do not like storms." Unfortunately, living in the midwest, we have thunderstorms and the occasional power outage. One summer in the new house, we lost power for a few days. The storm that knocked out the power wasn't even bad in our area, but a substation (I think) went out, and a lot of people lost power. July is not a good time to have no a/c...

For her, though, she can't access the internet, and all the videos and songs she loves. Modern conveniences like the microwave won't work, and it's incredibly hot and sticky when there's no power in the summertime. For years now, thunderstorms have been a source of anxiety for her. Rain clouds that could potentially cause thunderstorms are a source of anxiety. Rain makes her anxious. Seeing the garage door up when she gets home from school makes her anxious. (When we lost power, the garage door opener didn't work, and before my husband rigged a way for me to undo a latch to work it manually, I couldn't get my car out of the garage. Now that, too, makes her nervous.)

She doesn't like to sleep in full darkness. She has a small nightlight, as well as a lavender tabletop xmas tree that stays up year-round, lit with LED lights. She also sleeps with a fan on. I honestly don't know if it's the moving air (though it doesn't have to be pointed at her) or the noise she wants, or both. Or neither. When the power goes out, she gets a battery-operated fan and camp lantern. With my husband's iPad (which can be charged in the car if need be) she has some limited source of internet, but the home network also requires power, so she has to rely on satellite (which is slower). Basically, power outages are a much bigger ordeal for her than for either of the adults in the house. Yes, it's inconvenient and unpleasant, but it's not that bad, really. (Her stress in the situation is worse than the situation itself.)

A few days ago, a thunderstorm rumbled through the area. Dark skies, some pretty driving rain... and thunder. Our dog doesn't much care for the thunder either (and I mean to try a Thundershirt for her soon), so she was sticking close to me as I read on the couch. Diana came over for a little verbal reassurance, and then did something quite unexpected. She comforted the dog. She doesn't often pet Penelope without encouragement, but she reached down (risking a wet nose and tongue), and stroked her head and neck, and told her "it's OK."

It was one of the sweetest moments. I praised her for being so nice to Penelope, that it was sweet of her to try to make Penelope feel better. Especially when she was feeling pretty scared herself, she stepped out of her own worries to try to make someone else feel better.

The next time I hear someone claim that autistic people have no empathy, I will politely tell them they are full of shit.