to a parent with a child who has autism
As a parent of a child who has autism, let me give everyone a few tips on what not to say. As parents, we live in a unique world surrounded by really amazing people and our child. The way we live and the choices we make are often different that many other families way of life. Different doesn’t mean bad but it is special and unique. As I have aged as an autism mom, I have started to notice that there are some common misunderstandings or stereotypical responses from people not in our community. Over this time, I have also realized how amazing other parents within the autism community truly are. There is nothing like the love, acceptance and helpfulness that comes from my fellow autism parents. They understand, like really understand, and can put you at ease, make you laugh and give you hope for the future. We are all different but we are all part of this special community. So, if you have the pleasure of meeting an autism mom; here’s what NOT to say.
He doesn’t look autistic.
Is he high functioning?
What is his gift?
How do you think he got autism?
I’m sorry. This does not convey any true attempt to empathize with what my family has had to accept. In terms of accepting, my child isn’t dying and he isn’t terminally ill. This is not a death sentence it is life. It is a unique and beautiful experience that if you allow a child with autism to love you in their way, he or she will change your life for the better.
He doesn’t look autistic. I’m not sure what type of compliment you thought you were giving but you really look bad. Many people with disabilities do not wear them on the outside. Did you mean to say, oh, well he doesn’t look mentally impaired like in the movies. Or he doesn’t seem to be doing any of the “autistic” traits like flapping his hands or looking anywhere but at a person. Just stop before you embarrass yourself!
Is he high functioning? What is that even meant to infer? Like does he go to school with typical peers and do age appropriate activities or are you asking if he is some savant? If I say no, he is not high functioning; are you going to have follow up questions? I have had conversations with people about my son, explaining funny things he does; they have responded back with, OH, so he’s high functioning?! What? No. He’s not labelled high functioning, but you got an idea from a video or a show about those gifted Asperger’s people.
What’s his gift? HA! no, people he’s no savant. That is far and few in the world, that’s why people with those gifts are so celebrated and publicized. I’d say his gift is annoying me with the same set of questions over and over until I put my foot down.
How do you think he got autism?
hmm,Karen. I don’t know but he didn’t come with a return policy…so, I guess I have to keep him.
Never. ask. this. There is a huge range of possible answers and depending on your parenting, political, scientific, and religious views you could be stepping in some very deep stuff. It is best to avoid any conversations around this topic at all times. I even avoid this conversation with other autism parents!
- you are doing a great job!
- I didn’t know your child had autism. Our daughter has dyslexia (or other learning disability) and it is so tough getting her ___ (insert therapy, education, home chore that you have struggled with) how are you doing?
- We’d like to invite you to ___(insert your next party, event, play date) tell me what or where we could go to include you and your family. Is there anything we could have for food or activities that would help you attend and be able to stay for while?
- I’d love to learn and talk more about your situation, we should talk more or just call me when you need a break.
- How are you dealing with the struggles?
Autism moms and dads can feel alone at times because they can’t do many of the same activities at typical families or parents because they need to accommodate their child’s needs. When you address the parent/adult and how he or she must be feeling, thinking or coping with their child’s autism; you are helping to connect at a deeper level. That connections helps him/her not to feel alone.
I hope these tips can help you reach a friend or family member at deeper level.