Thursday 15 November 2018

How my autistic son talks about the trees as they lose their leaves

All the trees are dead - autism, facts and absolutes?

For the last month or so, Anthony has spent several journey's to school pointing out all the trees that are loosing their leaves.   "They are dying," he says. We have talked about the fact that it is more like the trees are going to sleep, but Anthony rejected this. To him the tree doesn't look any different by winter to when it looks when it is dead. Instead he thinks about it coming back to life in the spring. 

Perhaps this is because Anthony tends to deal in absolutes. After all, you can't be 'half dead.' When he has asked us what happens when things or people die we can only tell him what we and some people 'believe'. And this is really hard maybe for any child to understand. 

For a while he couldn't understand why we don't know what happens when we die. I've been asked to look it up on the internet, or ask someone who knows. It's too hard a concept to explain that (except I suppose for praying), I can't physically talk to anyone who has died to ask them what happened when they died and what it is like.

It may be related to the difficulties some autistic people have with Theory of Mind and finding it  difficult attach feeling to something that isn't physically present. 'Theory of mind' is being able to attribute mental states such as beliefs, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. to oneself and others and to understand that others have intentions and perspectives that are different from our own.

Anthony works on mostly what he can see and sometimes what he experiences. We recently watched Coco on a family movie night.  An absolute delight of a film that celebrates family but is mostly set in the land of the dead with a bunch of skeleton characters. 

As at the moment, Anthony does not actually 'believe' but simply take as facts what he is taught at school and what we tell him.  He's tried to fit the information about death around the movie Coco in a rather delightful way where our families stay around for a while until they are forgotten, as then they are no longer needed and at this point they drift off to Heaven (if you've seen the movie this will make more sense.)

The point though is how he takes what he knows and tries to apply it elsewhere.  So even if he's having difficulty in conceptual thinking, he's still working the problem.  In the case of our dead trees, he's simply extending or generalising a concept he's got a handle on to the trees.  Of course they come back to life again in spring which is great for them and in a way it's sort of wonderful.  Perhaps it's because they are in the ground and can't go anywhere when they die? 

I'll probably end up investigating the biology of it all to give Anthony some scientific grounding and then he'll process and store this as new facts and information to apply. At least I'll get some learning out of it too.

Do you happen to know what happens inside a tree during autumn and winter?

1 comment:

  1. If he's concentrating soley on the trees, the leaves do dies and never come back to life. But the trees... now that's different. It's still growing and is very much alive. If you're looking for a parallel between trees and humans, maybe use the example that our teeth fall out when we are children but they grow back again. With trees, this happens each year though which is what makes them so very special. Leaves or no leaves, they are still beautiful and so is you boy. What a lovely story x


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