For Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the plentiful and unique ways people on the Autism Spectrum express love. So we asked our Love My provider community of parents of children with autism: “How does your child express his/her love for you?” The overwhelming amount of responses we received was heartwarming, to say the least.

So often the topics of autism and love are partnered under the guise of proving that the combination is possible. To me, that’s just about as outdated as needing to prove that the “refrigerator mom” theory is wrong.

Still, the tracks of past sentiment remain, and parents do live with doubt and insecurity when their child receives a diagnosis of autism or its related disorders. Perhaps that’s why Love My Provider received so many responses from you. Autism parents don’t take anything for granted, especially love. And like all parents, we enjoy sharing our kids’ accomplishments.

So let’s share and celebrate! How do our kids on the autism spectrum – the verbal and the nonverbal, the high functioning and the heavily challenged – how do they connect to us? How do they express their love?

Some of the stories you shared mirror mine. At age nine, my son’s I-love-you’s and bear hugs are nothing unique. But like many things about him that appear ordinary, they developed in a different way. He used to be a personal space invader – he would hug strangers on the street, he showered attention on anyone who met his basic needs. Family members weren’t singled out, we didn’t warrant special treatment. And until we taught him to do so, he couldn’t verbalize or even label feelings.

There are children who prefer physical alternatives to hugs and kisses: The teenager who intertwines his feet with his mother’s as a way of embracing, the child who combs her dad’s hair instead of pecking his cheek, the one who rests his face on his mom’s back instead of her chest, or pinches her hand instead of holding it. There is the physically challenged teen who “leans in” for an armless hug, and the one whose broad smile says it all.

Venilde Cabral in Cape Coral Florida shared about her autistic adult daughter, “She doesn’t know how to give kisses, so she just puts her lips against my cheek.”

La Bonita Bowser in Detroit Michigan, who works full-time, shared about her non-verbal son, “If he hasn’t seen me all day, he has a way of rubbing my head… it lets me know he missed me. We sign “I love you” every day.”

Lindsay Marcell-Vars in Wichita Kansas, who also has a non-verbal son on the spectrum, responded, “I get kisses and hugs, and probably the most telling to me as a message of love is I am the one he asks for help, the one he goes to when he wants something, the one he comes to when he’s hurt.”

Wendy Kaplan Rezendes in Framingham Massachusetts says her preteen daughter has never offered a spontaneous ‘I love you,’ “but I know she loves me because every once in a while she’ll want to sleep in my bed and snuggle close to me.”

Parents shared with us the original ways their children express their love in phrases such as:  “You’re the best mom ever.”  “I love you, you love me.”  “You and dad have hearts of gold.”  “I love your heart.  You love my heart?”  Some replied that laughter is their children’s best way of saying, “I love you.”  And a few said that their kids demand, “noses” – then offer Eskimo kisses as an expression of love.

There are some creative nicknames, too. Eunice Haynes in Lancaster, Pennsylvania shared that her son affectionately calls her Mammabug.  And Phyllis Burson-Gunnoe‘s teenage son thinks it’s hilarious that he towers over her at 6’3″.  “He calls me Shrimp Boat Captain from Forrest Gump, and I AM!”

Humor, adoration, and respect shined through in all of the anecdotes our community shared about love on the autism spectrum.  On behalf of Love My Provider, I thank you fellow autism moms, dads and grandparents for contributing to this uplifting piece, and wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day weekend giving and receiving love in the special ways that you do!

  1. Boston is 7. He always wants kisses and asks to cuddle. His idea of cuddling is sitting on you ar laying next to you with his feet and hands under you and he can’t stop moving so it can be painful…..But hey, I’ll take what I can get!

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