16 Things Autism Parents Don't Want to Hear
I know in the past, I have been guilty of uttering, or at least vehemently thinking, some of these. The awareness (for me, at least) was not there eight years ago. That awareness is building, and spreading globally, and that's a good thing, because more and more people are learning that autism is just a different shade of normal. You like classical music. I like alternative music. He likes loud music, and to sing loud, and to make loud robot noises. It's fine. It's just different.
Still, there are certainly times when I realise how naive I once was. When I wish I could take these phrases out of my own spoken history. Because like with all differences, you can see and feel the intolerance in public places, when people behave in ways that are not traditionally 'socially acceptable'.
These are common responses to autism, and are probably a few things you should never say to an autism parent.
Ooooh. You got your kid immunised
Don't even get me started. All my kids were immunised. One has ASD. That's pretty much like saying television causes autism. All my kids watch television. Only one has autism. See what I mean? *insert pointed eyeroll here*
A plant-based diet will cure him.
I am the first one to advocate a healthy diet heavy in vegetables, lean proteins and , and a balance of all the macro and micro nutrients. I am the first one to say chicken nuggets are not a staple food. I've seen the differences in my son's behaviour and attitude when he eats junk, and when he eats colourful, veggie-ful meals. I am also the first one to say that it improves, but will never cure. (But will always advocate a healthy diet).
Have you tried essential oils? Thieves Oil fixes errrrrrythang. Or the chiropractor? Have you taken him to have his eyes checked - maybe he just needs glasses? Have you tried Bowen Therapy? Have you tried alternative medicines?
No, I haven't tried anything. Nope. Just been sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for someone to tell me he just needs acupuncture. Stellar idea. Autism Cure, here we come!
Well, he just needs some discipline.
He gets discipline. I know when he is being just a 'regular naughty kid', and when he is seeking sensory feedback, whether that be from volume or movement, or when he is feeling 'out of control' and gets a certain manic laugh. He doesn't rule our roost. We are teaching him how to self-regulate, and how to integrate into society while still being his awesome self. It's not a lesson that can be taught and learned in one sitting. It's a lesson that will carry on for years.
If he was my kid . . .
Thanks. He's not. But if he was, you'd feel how I feel right now. Judged, and found lacking. So cheers, Judgy McJudgerton. It's easy to parent someone else's kid when you only get a three minute snippet of their lives and you, you know, don't actually have to do it.
But, he's a cute kid?
Yep. I think he's pretty cute, too. I think there is some misconception that autism is distinctly recognisable, perhaps like Down Syndrome? I'm really not sure where this misconception comes from. Autism doesn't really affect your appearance. Ignorance by choice does, though - puckers your lips and narrows your eyes and makes you look sour and unhappy.
You really shouldn't medicate your kid.
While I'm super intrigued to hear all about that single four year old internet article you read a few months back (I know it's hard to convey sarcasm via text, but I assure you, that sentence was dripping with it) about how medication is the Devil's Droplets, this is a very personal choice. Each family needs to work out within their own dynamic if medication is a good fit for them - but mostly for the individual.
Have you thought about medicating him?
It's really none of anyone's business. But see above.
He obviously watches too much TV. Kids wouldn't have this problem if they were allowed to play outside.
My kids all play outside. We have a bunch of outdoor toys. We have a 16' trampoline. They have wheeled apparatus like scooters and bikes. They have a basketball hoop and basketballs. We have dogs, one of which will chase a stick (but won't bring it back). They have the most fun playing in dirt with a container of water. The son in question can spend an hour doing nothing but running around the perimeter of the house, pretending his Hot Wheels car can fly, while making Flying Hot Wheels Car noises. And guess what? They all watch TV, too. And play video games. And play with Lego in their bedroom. Because that's part of being a kid. It's not all hoops and sticks. Playing outside doesn't 'burn off that energy', because that's not the 'problem'.
Why can't you control your kid?
A meltdown is not a tantrum. I am personally fortunate that I have not had to deal with a full-scale meltdown since our eight year old was much younger, and it could be excused as a regular toddler tantrum (and now I wonder why it should be 'excused' - because it's easier to deal with the judgement, I guess). But there are times when it seems like he is misbehaving, to the outsider. And no matter what action I take, in the next instant, I second-guess myself. I could have done this, or I should have done that. He would learn more if I had said this differently. He would understand more if I had done that differently. So having someone look on with contempt and disgust doesn't help. At. All. I know I am not failing this kid, but in the moment, I feel like I don't know what I'm doing. Keep your eyeballs and your judgement to yourself.
He's so skinny.
Would it be acceptable if I told someone their kid was fat? Absolutely not. This is a terrible form of body shaming, because it's directed at a child, and one who is still learning about society, and how to self-regulate.
Everyone has to be labelled these days, don't they?
This was one of the major ones I was guilty of. When it first came up that our son would benefit from seeing someone, just to make sure, I dug my heels in. I didn't want him labelled. I thought the label would follow him around, like some kind of tertiary diploma letters. Instead of being Peter Jones, MD., OBGYN., he'd be Peter Jones, ASD, ADHD, ODD.
In reality having these labels - in fact, let's just start using the word 'diagnosis', has benefited him enormously. With the diagnosis, he has been able to access resources he would never have otherwise been able to, and the most important one so far has been his education. He has had a run of amazing teachers, and access to schooling departments that have catered for him and his individual needs. These teachers have appreciated him for who he is, and what he can do. Without that diagnosis, he would have been plonked into a regular classroom, with no thought to specific learning requirements, and no access to school-based speech therapy or occupational therapy; he maybe would have had teachers who became increasingly frustrated with him, initiating the downward spiral of a teacher who was disinterested with a kid who didn't want to be there. Ya dig?
There was never any such thing as 'autism' when I was a kid. It's just an excuse for bad behaviour.
It's hard to say whether the rates of Autism are rising, or if it's just becoming more diagnosed, but in whatever case, my guess would be that in fact, there was such a thing as this foreign condition called 'autism' back when you were a kid. It's just that nobody knew what to do with these kids, and many were probably just written off as a problem child, or a freak genius. Who knows how this affected them in their older years?
Oh, the lady down the road has a daughter whose cousin's best friend has a kid with autism! So I can totally relate!
It's awesome that awareness is spreading (that's kinda the point), but I can assure you, that kid is probably a whoooooooole heap different to my kid. No two shades of the spectrum are the same. What works for them may not work for us, and having perceived solutions diluted through four generations of Chinese Whispers isn't helpful.
Aren't you afraid of what will happen to him when you die?
Well, aside from thankyou very much for reminding me of my mortality, no. Because that's what we're doing with him - teaching him how to be a happy, polite and productive member of society, while still being himself. We will succeed at that, just as we will succeed and are succeeding at teaching the very same thing to our other kids.
So you are trying to tell me he's 'normal', but you're also telling me he's special and he needs special consideration.
Yes. That about sums it up. Just like a diabetic kid is normal. But their parents might be asking for special consideration that you don't feed them sugar. Or a kid with super curly hair is normal, but their parents might ask you not to brush their hair with a regular hairbrush. Or a kid with pale skin is normal, but their parents might ask you to make doubly sure they're coated with sunscreen at the beach. Like we as autism parents ask that you simply understand that this is real, and we're doing everything we can to improve their lives and these circumstances, so please stop being a jerk about it all.
So what CAN you say?
You don't really need to say anything. But when you see a kid having a whopper of a meltdown in the middle of a shopping centre, and a frazzled, panicked mum on the verge of tears, trying to do something so her child isn't interrupting your day, you could say:
'Is there anything I can do to help?'
'You're doing just fine. It's hard, but you're doing fine.'
Because her kid might just be having a major tantrum. Or that mum might be dealing with an autistic meltdown. Either way, that mum doesn't need your judgement.