Is it Possible to Teach Your Asperger’s Syndrome Child to Love?
“Mommy, I don’t know what love is.” Many parents who have children with Asperger’s Syndrome experience devastating moments like this and are uncertain as to how to reply. Love seems such a natural part of our lives. Explaining what love is becomes difficult, because love is so many things. Yet teaching love to your child is the most profound work a parent can do.
Love is more than feeling it (emotional empathy). Love is more than talking about it (cognitive empathy). Love is more than systematizing a moral code to live by (as many with Aspergers do to compensate for their empathy disorder). Love is more than practicing the rules of engagement (although politeness helps).
Over the years children learn about all kinds of love, not just familial love. They love their friends because they are fun to be with, and they share the excitement of childhood. They love their teachers and coaches because they are kind and encouraging. As children develop, they learn to give back more and more to the special people they love and who love them. At a certain age they begin to plumb the depths of romantic love. Of course the hormones are raging in those middle school and high school years, but it’s not only about sexual desire. Learning how to give and receive love is a huge part of growing up through adolescence.
We are wired chemically and genetically for affiliation, which is one step in the loving process. The modeling of loving parents and extended kin and friendship networks expands that innate ability by teaching the child how to express the many varieties of love that are possible.
However, when a person is a non-empathetic, black-and-white thinker, as many with Asperger’s are, they try to categorize love as if it were an object; something to be acquired. Yet love is a process that changes with each person you love and alters throughout the course of each relationship like the flow of a mountain stream. It’s hard for them to comprehend that we are each a changing individual in a changing world and our love is a dynamic dialogue with those we love.
In my practice, I’ve found one effective way to assist children with Asperger Syndrome is to define the many different types of love for them. The ancient Greeks help us to do this. While there are many more nuances in meaning than have been listed, this is enough to get you started guiding your AS child in the art of love. And let them know it is possible to have more than one type of love for a person.
Agápe refers to true love. This is the deep and abiding affection one has for one’s spouse, partner, parents or children. It’s caring about them and doing nice things because you want them to be happy.
How can you, as a parent, explain this to your child? You might say, “When we feel Agápe we look at them and tell them, ‘I love you deeply.’”