Daily living with autism #7– the 5 love languages

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Last week, the topic of love languages arose at a kid’s day camp my autistic son C attended.

Spanning three days, it was part of our church’s holiday programme for those aged 7 to 12. It’s been two years since such camps were held (thanks to you-know-what), so my wife and I were definitely glad for it.

Think about it.

For three days C will be out of the house from breakfast to dinner time. His exhausted parents and caregivers can get some respite during this annual hectic mid-year school holiday season. We can spend more dedicated one-on-one time with his older brother.

What’s not to like?!

But with C, cajoling is needed to attend camp

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My son C though was a whole lot less enthusiastic. Truth is, he’s become so much more a homebody these past two years since the pandemic upended everyone’s lives.

And who can blame him?

Coupled with his innate fear and reluctance to try new things and be in noisy, crowded places, it’s no surprise we struggled to get C’s buy-in to attend this camp.

Even as my wife and I continued in the days prior to encourage him to look at it as an opportunity to have fun and learn stuff. Including new worship songs, which he generally enjoys.

Even as we displayed what we hoped in his eyes to be the love languages that reassure him it’s all gonna be alright.

Even now I still marvel how the night before Day 1 of camp, he suddenly did an about-turn and acquiesced to go. I can only boil it down to the desperate prayers of a desperate parent being heard!

So just what are C’s love languages? For that matter, what are the five love languages we hear so much about?

The 5 Love Languages

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would surely have heard of the five love languages. Just as surely as you would have heard of the three musketeers or the four seasons.

No? Really? Okay. Let me break the five down for you.

Introduced by a Southern Baptist pastor Gary Chapman in a book of the same name published 30 years ago, the target audience then were married Christian couples. However, the rest of the world quickly jumped on the bandwagon, making this a now-familiar household concept. As ubiquitous as the traditional marriage vow itself.

Briefly, the five love languages are:
1. Acts of service
2. Receiving gifts
3. Physical touch
4. Quality time
5. Words of affirmation

The idea is that every human has a preferred love language that s/he will respond more readily to when it’s bestowed upon them. Regardless of whether or not they are aware of this list of five.

So if yours is, say ‘acts of service’, then being treated with kindness via a caring act like having breakfast prepared for you this morning by your significant other, will be viewed by you as a love gesture or language.

If ‘receiving gifts’, then getting a tangible present from your love ones would do the same. As would the remaining three love languages.

Of course, it doesn’t mean we each only respond to one of the five love languages. It’s possible to respond to all five gratefully. However, based on Chapman’s postulation, it’s more likely one or two of these love languages will hit our ‘sweet spot’ more immediately than the rest.

Now back to C and what happened at his camp.

C’s love language is…

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On the last day of C’s camp, parents were invited to attend and join in an activity involving both parents and kids.

For this activity, five stations were set up across the worship auditorium where parents and kids were seated.

Each had a sign with one of the five love languages. Parents and kids were then separated. The former were told to jot down which station their child would likely go to when asked which language they wish their parents ‘offer’ them regularly.

Then, parents were given a mask to blindfold themselves before their kids were released to the station of their choice. After that, parents would remove their masks to look for their kids and see if they guessed their preferred love language correctly.

I want to say that my C knew exactly what was going on. And at some level, I do believe he did.

But he ended up just going to wherever he saw his assigned camp teacher was situated in the auditorium (I don’t even remember now which station that was).

Still, it wasn’t an entirely futile experiment. At the very least my wife and I compared our answers and were generally in agreement.

Of the five love languages, C’s main squeeze was…

Words of affirmation

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Many times C would ask us “Was it good?” or “Do you like it?” or “Did I do good?”

Usually, he would ask these types of questions after he’s done something like tidy up his toys, build a simple Lego structure or wiggled his bottom in a mock dance before us.

And this can go on for much of the day. Every day.

Don’t get me wrong. Every parent knows (or should know) that affirming our kids regularly comes with the parenting territory. And if doing so bolsters the child’s sense of achievement and self-esteem, why not?

But if the questions are repeated too often. If they are over the same task or activity. If the task or activity is so infinitesimally small and not particularly insignificant (like drawing the same road sign, again and again, using a mere couple of lines).

Then my “tank of affirmation” dries up pretty quickly!

Which it does for much of the day. Every day.

Yet clearly that camp activity, in a room full of excited children eager to reveal their love language to their parents, was a reminder to me I mustn’t hold out on C when it comes to his favourite love language.

So I best stock up on my words of affirmation for him and not let my tank, tank!

No matter how many times he asks his questions.

No matter how many times he repeats the same actions.

Because words matter to him.

So they must matter to me.

Every.

Single.

Day.

One thought on “Daily living with autism #7– the 5 love languages

  1. Hello Kelvin,

    my love languages [the ones I identify strongly and closely with] are Acts of Service + Quality Time.

    If I was in the Station I would come to the Quality Time station.

    Words of Affirmation are my third.

    One Act of Service I did – was to weed the garden.

    Another Act of Service was to write to the Observer about some of my favourite ActuallyAutistic blogs.

    Remember, too, Kelvin, that love is made out of repeated [and, yes, repetitive and ritualistic] acts.

    Friendship, also.

    And worship songs come into Words of Affirmation.

    I am more a giver of gifts than a receiver.

    With Physical Touch I am like C when it comes to words – I use it as a prompt and a guide [even though it is valuable and wonderful in itself].

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