Autism Speaks sums it up so succinctly.
“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”
Read more of their explanation here at this link.
When you are the parent of a special needs child, it can feel like there’s this huge divide between you and everyone else. The only people who “get it” are the ones walking a similar path.
That isn’t a great feeling.
And when you are “everyone else”, it can be hard to communicate effectively with parents whose children face struggles different than that of your own. When you find yourself in that position, it’s easy to stumble over your words, feel tongue-tied, and ultimately stick your foot in your mouth because you just don’t have the right words.
We went out and spoke with lots of parents of kids who have autism. Here are some things they would love for you not to say.
Some of these phrases may come as a surprise. But, try to hear their hearts and really understand how saying these things might make a parent feel.
“Maybe if you disciplined him better…” – Nicole B.
“He’ll grow out of his autism, right?” – Emily S.
“That kid needs a good spanking.” – Amanda B.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.” – Jennifer W.
“I don’t know how you do it!” – Michelle W.
“You need to be strict with him.” – Lori A.
“He doesn’t look like he has autism.” – Beckye B.
There were many more, but in order to keep this short and sweet, I’ll summarize. Parents of kids with autism want you to know a few key things.
You can’t discipline the autism out of them. Their brains are wired differently. Different does not equal bad. They do it because this is the hand they were dealt. It is hard. But they love their child, just like you love yours. They don’t want you to feel sorry for them. Their kids are beautiful, smart, and unique – each in their own way.
Now, comes the disclaimer.
We aren’t speaking for every parent of every child with autism. Everyone’s circumstances are different. We can respect that. These are just the general themes that showed up repeatedly when talking to people walking this road. We don’t pretend to know what every single parent or child is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. Take what we say with a grain of salt and know it was only written with the best of intentions and not to be a source of conflict or division.
Now, what would these parents love for you to know? We asked and this is what they had to say.
“I am my child’s voice and my child is my strength. It’s okay to live completely outside the box. Pretend there is no box!” – Ashlee A.
“Ask questions from curiosity, not condemnation.” – Rebecca J.
“He processes information differently, so please be patient. Oh, and a smile goes a long way!” – Debbie F.
“Trust me when I say, most, if not all autism moms have read and tried almost everything to help their child. We often feel judged, especially in public meltdown situations. We often doubt ourselves and our parenting choices. It’s nice to hear, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job, I can’t imagine the challenges you must face in parenting that I don’t have to think about.’ Don’t tell us what we should be doing. Help lift us up as mothers, because sometimes after a particularly hard day, we can feel defeated. And those are the positive moments we hold on to.” – Michelle C.
“I wish people would realize that they are smart. They just show it in a different way. Never underestimate a person with autism.” – Misty E.
“Never ever parent an autistic child from the point of view of winning the fight. We are trying to win a war for their future, not a battle over chicken nuggets.” – Cheryl S.
Parenting a child with any type of special needs is hard. Frankly, parenting in general is hard. Let’s try to come from a place of understanding and empathy when speaking to one another. We all have struggles. Some visible. Some not.
Let’s work on inclusion and acceptance and practice the “golden rule” as we go about our lives. We are stronger together.
Don’t forget to share on social media! Let’s spread the word and help bring together parents, educators and health professionals so that we can make the world a better place for ALL of our children, no matter their differences.
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