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10 things not to say to parents of an autistic child

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Published on 21/09/2021

As the parent of an autistic child, it can be hard to listen to the well-meant but often downright rude comments about our kids

Everyone means well. Or at least we hope that they do.  But as the parent of an autistic child, it can be hard to listen to the well-meant but often downright rude comments about our kids.  It can be hard to not just roll your eyes and tell them to shut up!  As it can be hard to not just tell everyone to be quiet, here is a list of things that we want you to never say to us!

1. But they don’t look autistic?

What does this mean?  That my child looks normal?  This comment makes you presume that you know what autism looks like – which you definitely don’t!  Autism, or ASD is a spectrum disorder for a reason.  No two people look alike in life, so why would two people with Autism look or behave in the same way?  

2. I knew something was wrong with them 

Well done!  Congratulations!  You worked out that my child has Autism!  Something that a trained team of professionals was needed to establish. Not only that, how dare you say something is wrong with them.  This is a thinly veiled “I told you so”.  No parent wants to hear this, so just stop.

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3. Will they ever go to university?

Hold down a job, have a relationship, ever leave home?  Fill in the blanks.  While there is no cure for autism, why should my child’s future matter to you?  It is for me and him to discuss, and for him to live his life.

4. I didn’t think your child would be comfortable at our birthday party.

This comment always comes after your child has been left out of a party, or an event they would have enjoyed if some simple accommodations had been made.  By doing this, you as a parent have excluded my child and are telling me that you don’t think they want any friends or social interaction.  When you exclude a child with autism from your next party ask yourself this:  Whose comfort are you really worried about?

5. Have you tried a gluten-free diet?

You did a google search!  A gluten-free diet and vitamins aren’t going to cure my son’s autism.  Before you send me the link to this ‘amazing article’ just remember it is an incurable disorder.  As it isn’t a disease there really isn’t any cure.  And also, if there was one, don’t you think I would know already?

6. What is her special talent?

If you have been watching pop culture then you will believe that anyone with autism has a superpower! While there are some cases, more often than not, autistic children have their own strengths, but they probably won’t be the next Mozart or Rainman if that is what you mean. Sesame Street has a wonderful new character called Julia who depicts an autistic child, so think more her than Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

7. I don’t know how you do it.

I’m not a saint I am a parent!  This backhanded compliment is much like “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle” or “Everything happens for the best.” While they might think they mean well what they are doing is minimising your experience by saying that this is a situation you should be able to manage.  What we have is a tough job and the persistent hope we can keep doing the best we can.

8. Don’t play the Autism Card.

I am sorry?? This isn’t top trumps? Stop it!

9. They will outgrow this.

Autism is a disorder. There is no way to know whether or not children might change.  While some kid’s on the spectrum “do better” than others, no one knows why.  Also, what does “better” even mean.  The goal for any child with autism is the same as any kid and that is for them to reach their full potential, whatever that is in life.

10. “I know exactly what you’re going through. I have a friend whose neighbour’s relative has a child with autism.”

How does this relate to me?  While it is human nature to try and sympathise with a family who has a kid with autism, even you should know that this isn’t the right thing to say.  You can’t say that you know ‘exactly’ what we are going through as you have never experienced it, and likely won’t!

What we want to hear!

“How can I help” is a good start. Strangers’ curiosity also doesn’t help as this list shows, so having someone there to champion our kids can mean a lot.  As a parent of autistic kids, it can be stressful and overwhelming and often we want someone who is happy to listen to us! Let us tell you about our amazing, unique, talented, and wonderful children. 

 

Does your child have autism?  Tell us your experiences in the comment section below.

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