In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I want to take some time out to do this favor on behalf of parents of ASD kids everywhere. MY ASD baby, Spike was diagnosed very early, at 2 years old. I was so overwhelmed in the beginning. I had so many new medical terms, symptoms, and procedures to learn in addition to the emotional strain of learning I would now be parenting a special needs child. I had a whole lot to learn and no time to do it. It was rough.
In hindsight, I’m sure friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers had just as many questions and concerns. In hindsight, I’m sure most of their comments were innocent and well meaning. However, I have spent many moments fuming with anger, hurt or exasperation due to ignorant, insensitive, or rude comments and questions made to me about my ASD child.
In the hope that I can save some other parents and well-meaning friends and family some hurt feelings and embarrassment. I have compiled 10 Things You Never Say To The Mom of An Autistic Child. You’re welcome.
- He looks so normal. - What does this even mean? I don’t know what you think normal looks like or what autistic look like, but my son is fly AF. Thanks though...not.
- Oh, I’m so sorry! - Listen..I get you may not know what to say. And maybe you’re noticing the amount of blood, sweat, and buckets of tears it can sometimes take to parent an ASD kid. But saying sorry makes us feel like you are pitying us and/or that you feel bad that we’ve created the funniest, coolest kid ever. Being this kid’s mom has helped me grow and love in ways I never knew possible, plus he is a genuinely great kid. I’m not sorry, you don’t need to be either.
- Are you sure he’s autistic? - Believe or not, because Spike is high-functioning, I get this a lot. Yes, he’s verbal and isn’t doing any of the behaviors you’ve seen on Rain Man, but after 3 doctors, 2 neurologists and a team of therapists. Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
- Oh, did you have him vaccinated? Or that’s why I don’t vaccinate, Or anything that has the V word. This is a personal and very dangerous subject. There is a very big chance this could get you pimp slapped. Just. Don’t.
- He just needs some discipline. Or, you need to spank him. - Now I’m sure there are times when we all have this thought while observing someone else’s child act out. However, this was actually said to me by an older woman, as my three-year-old had an absolute meltdown in Target after he lost the empty ketchup bottle he had been carrying everywhere for the last 6 weeks. (Don’t ask). At the time I was exhausted and had an equally cranky 5-year-old begging for McDonald’s. It’s possible I threatened to knock her dentures out. Any jury would have acquitted. An ASD kid’s tantrum isn’t the result of poor parenting. Any sort of sensory overload could have triggered a meltdown and a struggling parent might need some help or just an understanding smile. I don't need your judgment. And I don’t need a case.
- I know all about that, my cousin’s best friend is autistic. - This isn’t all that bad considering some of the others, but if you know one autistic person, you just know one autistic person. Autism is a spectrum of disorders, with so many symptoms and behaviors that it’s unlikely my kid is anything like your family member.
- He’s just being picky. He should eat whatever you give him. He’ll eat when he’s hungry. - Actually, he won’t. And how many days should I starve him while I wait for his sensory issues with certain foods to miraculously cure themselves? Trying to force him just to taste it, will probably end with him throwing it up. And then my sensory issues will kick in, and I’ll throw up. Who needs this drama?
- Oh, he doesn’t seem that bad. - This has been said to me many times, in response to “My son is autistic.” I didn’t say he was bad, I said he is autistic. Autism isn’t bad, and there isn’t anything wrong with him. He just interacts with the world differently than you or I. Different can be a beautiful thing.
- So what can he do? - I admit, I was thrown by this at first. Like what do you think he is, a trick pony? I know many movies about folks on the spectrum will highlight a special talent or genius they have. Though my son does have some special talents, like a crazy sick memory, I don’t know that it has to do with his autism and many ASD kids don’t. It’s not a buy one get one free kind of deal.
- Will he always be like that? - Will he always have Autism? Yes. Will he always be reciting entire TV episodes to himself, humming to self soothe, or whatever atypical behavior you are noticing at the moment? To tell the truth I don’t know, there are behaviors and symptoms he had for years that have disappeared and new ones have taken their place. There is no road map to autism, I’m just along for the ride.
I know most people don’t mean any harm when attempting to discuss our ASD children. And I don’t mean to insinuate you should ignore our child's issue or not ask questions, especially if this is a close friend or family member. We do need your love and support. My hope is that you approach the situation with more tact and compassion and save the judgement. Cause we’re mommies and we’re sensitive about that shit.