I have found myself in conversations with people with good intentions that had no idea how offensive their comments or questions were. It can be an awkward situation if you meet an autism parent and don’t know what to say. So I’ll share a few of the things I suggest not to say.
1. He doesn’t look like he has autism. He looks normal.
Of course he looks normal. He is normal but no he’s not typical. Kids who have autism don’t have specific look to them. Just say you have a handsome son.
2. What is his special gift? What can he do?
There is a misconception that just because you have autism that you must have special abilities. He’s not a circus animal. While this is true for some with autism, it is not true for all of them. You could say what kind of things does your son enjoy doing?
3. What do you think caused it? Was he vaccinated?
We don’t know what caused it and neither does the medical community yet so I suggest that you just don’t ask that. And before you ask the vaccination question you should brace yourself because that one just about pushes me over the edge. I don’t believe vaccinations were the cause. The physician that years ago started that awful theory fabricated his research and he lost his medical license. I know that others have also pushed this theory but I have yet to read anything compelling enough to make me believe there is any truth to it. So again, I don’t know what caused it but I can’t change it. All I can do now is do my best to get him the best therapy and support he needs to be successful.
4. Have you tried changing his diet?
This question isn’t necessarily offensive when asked unless you are trying to suggest that I haven’t done everything in my power already to help my son. Some children with autism are VERY picky eaters. (And yes this can be true of typical kids too.) In our case Noah has less than 10 foods that he will eat. So tell me more about your suggestion to only cook one meal and that he’ll eat when he’s hungry. Yeah…no. He’d rather starve. You can try the starvation method on your own child but what I’ll do is offer new foods and encourage him to try them but I will not force him to eat new foods. I’ve learned to pick my battles.
5. My child has meltdowns too. Have you tried disciplining him or being more strict?
Please do not compare your child’s temper tantrum to an autism meltdown. These two things are not the same in the least. When my child is having a meltdown he doesn’t even have the words to tell me what is wrong. It could be that the room is overwhelming him or that doesn’t understand why he can’t do something. He can’t even tell me what I can do to help him. It is one of the most helpless feelings an autism parent has. So no I can’t try discipline. I can’t spank the autism out of him. What I can do is utilize the tools I’ve been given by his therapists to notice the signs of a meltdown coming on and try to prevent scenarios that can cause a meltdown. I am hyper aware of my surroundings now when we are out and about. I can usually spot a possible meltdown trigger from a mile away.
6. I read this article on autism and I think you should try…
This is a tough one. I have done countless hours of research concerning autism. I actually get regular emails from organizations that are doing on going research about autism. I can assure you that I am well educated and up to date on the latest information. But with that said, I am always willing to read an article with a new point of view. In this case instead of giving your recommendations based on the article you should probably just say I read an interesting article about autism, can I share it with you?
7. I’m so sorry.
I have said this in previous posts but I’ll say it again. PLEASE don’t say I’m so sorry when I tell you that my son has autism, like it’s such a terrible thing that you need to feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for me. Some days are really tough and we have more obsticles but most days are wonderful. Noah is a blessing. He brings me so much joy. He has changed the way I see the world. He has taught me what true patience is, taught me to be a kinder human and made me a better mom. I only post about our autism journey to help bring awareness not to seek your pity. Your support and kindness are the things that autism parents want.
I hope that if you find yourself in a situation where you are talking to an autism parent that you’ll remember the things NOT to say.