We’ve all been there: trying to unload the grocery cart while our child with autism throws a complete tantrum. Having to abandon a shopping trip because the pants “don’t feel right” when they are tried on, and the child has had enough. There are times when expectations change and the child cannot handle it. True, parents of neurotypical kids also go through the same things. As mothers, we have just about the toughest job there is.
Continuing a series on autism awareness, I present some of the most common comments parents with children who have autism can experience.
Compounding the difficulty is when well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) bystanders need to throw in their two cents about how you parent your child. As the mother of two children with autism, and one who has a highly-developed intellect and Asperger’s traits, I believe I have heard all of the comments. Here are the most common, and my responses…maybe this will encourage you in your journey.
“Why Can’t You Control Your Child?”
The implication is that you are a terrible parent…but the person really has no idea how you live, day-to-day. I try to give busybodies like this the benefit of the doubt. Granted, kids knew their place in her day, but really is that a place anyone wanted to live? Remember, your first priority is your child…it is clear you are a good parent because you are tending to the most important thing.I have been known to ask someone if they could help me unload the groceries out of my cart so I could deal with a tantrumming daughter. Either the person is happy to help, or sorry she opened her mouth about my parenting!
“You Need To Discipline That Child!”
Yes, you are absolutely right, and I do. It doesn’t change the fact she has autism. Discipline doesn’t change autistic behavior anymore than being around food makes you a chef.
“Is That YOUR Child?”
Yes, this has happened to me! I was in a department store and my daughter was throwing a complete fit. I picked her up and started carrying her out of the store. A woman approached me and accused me of kidnapping my own daughter. My frustrated response: “Yes, this is my daughter, but right now, do you want her?”
“Oh She’s One of Those Specially Talented Kids, Right?”
Many people are still under the impression that all children with autism have savant abilities. While a small percentage do, most do not. Don’t ask me if my child can count toothpicks, or draw from memory or play any instrument. I didn’t give birth to Rain Man.
“But She’ll Be Fine in a Few Years, Right?”
Autism is a lifelong disability. While some kids may grow into their abilities more (it is a developmental delay) they will still always have the deficits that come with autism. That’s not to say they have no prospects and cannot grow into productive adults. They can, and do. But the core deficits, though they vary from person to person, such as lack of reciprocal conversation and need for routine, can remain.
“I Don’t Want a Child Like THAT Around My Child!”
This is the hardest one to combat. But just because a child has autism doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings. She wants to socialize and play with other children. She may not always do it the right way, but she tries. We aren’t always perfect the first time we try something…it takes practice. Just as a person who says something like this needs practice… in using tact.
“Why Should That Child Be In My Child’s Class?”
The concern is often that the time spent with a child who has autism in the classroom takes away resources and learning time. Luckily, in this country, all kids have the right to a Free And Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). That means, if my child can handle mainstream education, she gets to do so. It’s simple. It’s the law.
“She Doesn’t Look Autistic”
Ah, my favorite comment. What does autism look like? I suppose to some it looks like a vacant child, picking lint and stacking things, with no speech. But autism is so much more than that. Autism is a “hidden disability” because my child looks like any other child, at least at first glance. Would you say, “Funny, he doesn’t look like a computer programmer?” or, “She doesn’t look like a scientist.” Looks can be deceiving and I suggest that you stop rushing to judgment.
Just know that most people who say things either don’t think, or don’t mean any harm. The bottom line is, you are the first and best advocate for your child with autism. Don’t concern yourself with what others think as much as you concern yourself with what your child needs. First and foremost, that’s your priority. If you feel like educating the uninitiated along the way, then do so. But never feel as though it is required.
photo of mother and child, copyright Big Grey Mare- Taking It Slow, flickr, used under creative commons license.
Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome tendencies. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Type-A Mom. Her personal blog is Send Chocolate.