As a parent of a child with autism, I have happened to hear a lot of friendly advice and unpleasant comments both. Though I would like to believe that most of them were said out of genuine concern, they usually fall flat or backfire.
Here are my recommendations on statements you should never make in front of a parent of a child with autism –
1. I know what you have been going through. I have a cousin whose sister-in-law’s neighbor has a child with autism.
I understand that most of us want to come across as empathetic and aware, but the truth is that unless you have lived with a child with autism, you do not know what it is. It’s much more complex than what meets the eyes.
Reading a book or having a few conversations with someone dealing with autism does not make you an Autism Expert. There is a famous saying, “if you know one child with autism, then you know only one child with autism”; nothing can re-emphasize upon their uniqueness better than this. So honestly, unless you’re a specialist, you do not know; believe it.
2. Are you sure because he doesn’t look autistic!
Yes, I, as well as all the other parents in the same boat, are sure. If there were an iota of doubt, then no parent would like to call their child autistic. It is not a diagnosis revealed on a single online consultation call; in most cases, we have met multiple psychologists, pediatricians, and therapists.
So when a parent tells you about autism, yes, they are 100% sure about it. Also, there is nothing like “looking autistic”, so please refrain from making such stereotypical statements.
3. You are unnecessarily getting worried; all kids behave like this only.
Again, unless you have lived with one, please do not make generalized statements. Of course, most kids love lifts, fans, slides, rides, spinning, etc, but the underlined difference is the intensity and the duration that they spend while indulging themselves in such stuff.
4. Why don’t you try medication, or that doctor or that baba? I have seen many kids recover after having consulted him.
If there were medication for autism, then trust me, parents would be the first to know. We are part of many more autism specific groups than the social groups you all have access to. There is no medication or surgery or tantra mantra that can fix it. Unless you are a professional, I bet you have not even met as many autistic kids to make that claim. Don’t believe me, do count in your head and let me know if you could go beyond 3!
5. I go mad with my son’s sports coaching classes; it’s so hectic to manage them daily. On the other hand, don’t even ask about my daughter; she is such a chatterbox and drives me nuts with her never-ending questions.
These might be real problems, but please do not complain about your “normal challenges” in front of parents with special kids. It’s a dream for them to have their child play in a colony team, forget getting them trained from a professional coach. About 25% of all autistic kids remain non-verbal for life; their parents dream about them uttering some random word one day. Be careful and sensitive to their realities.
6. Why have you put him on so many therapies? He is just a child; let him be. He will be okay once he grows up.
Autism is not something that one can “grow out of”. Parents do accept their children for who they are, but like you, they also want to give them every opportunity they can, which often means taking them for intensive therapy sessions. There are studies to prove that the early intervention program and various therapies can result in improved quality of life for the individuals on the spectrum.
7. He must be good with maths and music, right?
Unfortunately, some movies and stories have established this notion about autistic children. While in reality, only 10 percent of them possess savant skills. Most others are struggling to acquire the necessary skills for daily living that you and I are blessed with.
8. There is no problem with your child; he just needs to be disciplined. You have spoiled him.
Children with autism are struggling with things that most people can not see. Their senses are usually not integrated, resulting in sensory overload, which they do not know how to handle or explain. This can get frustrating for anyone. They don’t need discipline; they need love, understanding, patience, and compassion. Meanwhile, the world needs more education about autism and its challenges.
9. You should let him be with other kids, and soon he will be okay.
Indeed, this advice is a notch better; however, it’s not that we are not trying. It can be heartbreaking to witness a child with autism struggle to socialize. It’s not as simple as taking him to a park. Kids on the spectrum do not understand social cues. They struggle with basic skills like interacting with other kids, playing with them, turn-taking, waiting, following rules, etc. All these issues, coupled with sensory overload at times, become a nightmare for a parent to manage. And, not to forget the align treatment that we get everywhere we go.
10. Autism is no big deal; you have just got an excuse. You are only exaggerating some speech and behavior issues.
Oh come on. Really? I would want to believe that Mera Bharat Mahaan is a lot more sensible and sensitive than this!
Then, what should you do or say if you genuinely care; wait for my next blog for the insights. Meanwhile, don’t forget to checkout my book, When I Met The “Unexpected” – A Guide for All Parents, to learn more about Autism and my personal experiences of raising a child with autism.
See you soon, take care.