Yesterday evening, after I got home, Hallie was playing with Sharon and having a blast. She turned to Sharon and said to her: "Mommy, I feel HAPPY!"
We thought that was great. For Hallie to express herself using language is alone a huge thing. Remember, this is a kid who, up until recently only used language to label or describe things she saw (admittedly in ever more complicated ways, so we've heard some "It's dark outside" and not just "Look! It's Sam Wiggle. Sam is Yellow.") or to demand stuff of us ("Hallie wants Pirate Booty!" or "Watch Diego Saves Christmas" sorts of constructions).
But even more impressive is that she is expressing abstract feelings: we've heard "I feel cold" a few times but 'cold' is a fairly concrete concept. "Happy" is not. Happy is an abstraction and happy is what Hallie was feeling when Sharon was playing with her.
Even more significant was an exchange that took place a few minutes later. Lea was in the living room and got upset about something. Hallie went over to Lea, who had begun to fuss and cry a bit and said to us, "Lea feeling sad." Then she hugged and kissed Lea and turned to us and said, "Lea feeling happy." Hallie totally got that a. crying indicates sadness and that b. hugs, kisses and cuddles make you feel happy.
This is HUGE. Remember, Hallie used to laugh when Lea was crying. We weren't sure why, but we were pretty convinced that Hallie was fairly confused about emotions and wasn't making the connection between crying and feeling sad and needing comfort when it concerned anyone but herself: she was pretty clear about seeking out comfort if she was upset but was unable to understand that this applied to others, too. At least where Lea is concerned, that hurdle seems to have been surmounted (though this still requires generalization).
What does all this mean? Hallie is developing the ever-important Theory of Mind. If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, you know precisely how significant this is. If not, here's a good place for more information about why Theory of Mind is so essential to typical development and interacting in the universe. Basically, what it comes down to is this: if Hallie can understand that other people behave in certain ways because they feel particular emotions (in other words, that other people also cry when they feel bad and smile when they feel happy), she will be able to form meaningful connections with them, predict their desires, understand that their desires are not always the same as her own, etcetera etcetra. In other words, Theory of Mind is an essential precursor to friendship.
And there is no doubt in my mind (theoretical or otherwise) that Lea is Hallie's best friend and that Hallie cares a great deal for Lea. That she can take into account how Lea feels and want to make her feel better makes me and Sharon feel very, very happy.