12 Things You Should Never Say To An Autism Parent
People have a natural inclination in awkward situations to sort of just say whatever comes to mind as a means of breaking the tension. However, not everything people say helps that awkwardness - sometimes, it just makes the situation worse even when the person's intentions are good. As an autism parent, I run across this issue a lot and it's okay to not know what to say. What's not okay is spouting off opinions when you're woefully under-educated about individuals with autism.
Many people make insensitive jokes to try and smooth over their own feeling of discomfort which is also disrespectful. Sometimes people will give me advice as their way of trying to be helpful but in most cases, the advice doesn't apply because they have no idea what being an autism parent is like. So before you speak up about autism, my advice to you would be to truly think before you speak and definitely do NOT say any of the following to parents of children with autism.
1) Don't worry, he'll be fine.
I never thought my child wouldn't be fine, but I do worry about what types of labels society will put on them. The thing about children with autism is that they're incredibly unique and resilient. As parents, we know our kids will be fine especially if we as parents bust our humps making sure that we advocate for them, which by the way, we do.
2) Everyone's a little autistic.
News flash: Not everyone is a little autistic. Just because Hollywood has glamorized and misrepresented autism doesn't mean that 'being autistic' should equate to the new nomenclature for 'unique'. Autism is a blessing, a struggle, and most importantly a medical diagnosis.
3) Your child is bad. He needs discipline.
Firstly, children with autism aren't bad. Children with autism have struggles that most people cannot see. They don't have natural intuitions about appropriateness and acceptable behavior. They're commonly baffled by social behaviors. In addition, children with autism frequently get easily overstimulated and don't know how to handle that excess stimulation and aggravation. Thus, a lot of the time when frustration hits, they 'misbehave' or have 'tantrums' so to speak. Wouldn't you do the same if you felt overloaded, overwhelmed, frustrated, and afraid? My child doesn't need discipline. My child needs love, understanding, patience, and compassion. Meanwhile, the world needs more education about autism spectrum disorders.
4) I know what you're going through.
Not to be rude, but unless you're an autism parent or have Autism yourself, you have NO IDEA what we are going through. It's a roller coaster of emotions, education, advocating, understanding, and much, much more. Your kid automatically gets the benefit of the doubt whereas mine doesn't. He's labeled as soon as someone knows about his autism. Not to mention, parents of children with autism have to work hard to advocate for their children's rights, rights that parents with 'normal' children take for granted. So, no, you have no clue what we are going through.
5) She doesn't look autistic.
This one always gets me a little bit because I just want to stop and say, "What?" Just because my kid doesn't look a certain way means he doesn't struggle? Okay, makes perfect sense. So, people who have depression or anxiety must be fine because they don't look depressed or anxious, right? Am I a doctor yet?
6) At least she isn't severe or worse.
When someone is struggling you can't just say, "Well it could be worse." That does absolutely nothing in helping them cope with their problem. In fact, it diminishes their concerns and their feelings. Just because a person isn't worse off doesn't mean that they don't struggle or aren't worthy of comfort and support.
7) I know (insert child's name) can really behave when they want to.
If you know that, then maybe I should leave them with you for a week and see how you do at raising them. I'm sure you know all about the struggles that children with autism face including behavioral issues, the lack of social awareness, fine motor skill problems, and many other difficulties. Occupational, physical, ABA, and speech therapies seem to work wonders but by all means, I didn't know that you had all of the answers here on God's green earth. *rolls eyes*
8) They'll eat when they're hungry.
Actually, they won't. If the food isn't one that the child can tolerate, the child will not eat it. I know this because my son has sensory processing issues and his sense of smell is heightened to the point where if he does not like the way a food smells, he vomits on his plate. He's done this since he was a year old. So, if he can't tolerate a food smell, he won't eat it and he may even vomit on you because of it if you're standing too close.
9) They'll grow out of it.
This one is hilarious to me because it's so idiotic. Do people tend to grow out of other developmental or psychiatric disorders? If they do, I must have missed the memo since I've had panic disorder for the last 15 years and I'm now 30 years old. I am actually really ticked off that no one told me I would grow out of it! If you say stupid things to me, you'll get a sarcastic response, but don't worry - I should grow out of it...
10) I have read about this / I know somebody with autism and all you have to do is...
WRONG! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Reading a book or having a few conversations with your friend with autism does not make you an authority on the subject. Even I, a parent of a child with autism, who has read multiple books, laws, and talked to a slew of specialists still have a very limited knowledge of autism. The reason being that autism is such a vast diagnosis. One person affected by autism may have one set of symptoms while another person with autism may have an entirely different set of issues. To be frank, even though you've read about this unless you're a specialist you don't know ISH.
11) You shouldn't have vaccinated your child.
Nothing infuriates an autism parent more than someone suggesting that the parent's choice to get their child vaccinated is the cause of their autism. There are two reasons for this. One, people say it as if I carted my child off to a doctor to be experimented on and that it's my own fault for listening to an educated medical professional, the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics to have my child vaccinated. Two, vaccines do not cause autism. Rumors of vaccines causing autism came about because of one botched study where the findings upon peer review were not able to be replicated and the study was labeled as fatally flawed. The research paper has since been retracted and completely disregarded in the scientific community. So, basically, hush it about vaccines and autism.
12) Criticize our seemingly unusual parenting techniques.
Since we have already established that children with autism learn differently that means that they also respond to typical parenting approaches differently - as in sometimes not at all. I remember when I had tried everything with my son and one time we, at the suggestion of a family member, took all of his toys out of his room for a day as punishment. He, in turn, did not get upset and barely even noticed because instead he pulled the A/C vents out of the floor and played with those instead. A lot of the time conventional methods just don't work. So instead of criticizing the parent, you should educate yourself first or just keep your opinions to yourself!