My daughter doesn’t always understand how she’s supposed to feel.
It’s the part of Prader-Willi Syndrome that dips its toe in the autistic spectrum. No, not just dips its toe - has a right good paddle about. Her empathy is under-amped. Not because she’s emotionless: she’s brimming with it, enough to bubble and spill over at unexpected moments. But these moments tend to be random: when a classmate insists they’re in Year 9 when she’s sure they’re in Year 10; when a Hello Kitty bag strap is the wrong shade of pink; when a wave of upset rises from the deepest fathoms for an unfathomable reason.
My uncle died this week. The phone call wasn’t out of the blue, but then of course at the same time it was. A Scot from Polish stock, with a consonant-packed surname, a sometimes impenetrable accent, and a dry sense of humour, he loved his family fiercely and was fiercely loved back.
“Will they be sad?” my daughter quizzed me. She was inquiring after my aunt and my cousins and the tribe of grandchildren who adored him. John, Dad, Grandad, Uncle John. She was scanning my face, searching, watching, wanting to know, how it felt, what I would do, how was I reacting, why there were tears in my eyes, what it meant.
“Yes, sweetheart, they will be very sad. When someone you love dies then you do feel sad because you miss them very much. It’s very upsetting.”
“I’m not upset,” she said. She looked a little worried, and it was my turn to scan her face. I think she was aware that it wasn’t the right thing to say. I suspect she thinks it’s ‘grown up’ not to cry when other people do.
We've had two power cuts this week, and it struck me that when it comes to our emotions we’re all wired differently, but there are certain trip switches that short us all out. My girl, on the other hand, is working from a different fusebox.
Song is Elvis Costello And The Roots - Tripwire