This post on judgement aims to help inform friends and family members of individuals who believe their child may be autistic, as well as educators who have been approached by parents with the same concerns.
This article isn’t designed to belittle anyone for their lack of knowledge about autism. For example, outside of psychiatry circles, no-one had much awareness of autism until at least the 1990s; and the Government’s teacher training framework (that taught educators how to support children with special educational needs, especially autistic children), wasn’t rolled out until 2016.
(Meaning many teaching or support staff members still lack some experience in the field.)
Access to autism information
The end result is that, thanks to a wide array of information on autism being available to today’s parents, their own family members, especially older relatives, often simply haven’t had the exposure to the autism education and awareness that we enjoy today. And teachers and educators who haven’t received specific autism training, or haven’t autistic taught children in their class, also may not be fully up to date with the latest schools of thought.
Hence, this article aims to help extended family members and educators understand the most helpful responses, if someone’s shared concerns that a child may be autistic.
What not to say…
Here’s what isn’t helpful as a response, however well-meaning, to a parent who’s expressed the view that their child could have autism.
I am sure there’s nothing wrong with him.
All children do that!
But she doesn’t look autistic.
Normal people do that too.
I wouldn’t worry – we’re all a little bit autistic, aren’t we?
She will grow out of it.
Maybe it’s a discipline issue?
You’re spending too much time on the internet, looking for conditions that aren’t there.
But he can hold eye contact!
She is completely fine at school. Maybe the problem is the home environment?
Maybe he’s reacting to your anxiety?
Autism wasn’t prevalent in my day.
My friend’s son is autistic, and she doesn’t act like him at all.
More helpful reactions could be:
What can I do to help, in the way of research or reading?
She may not be autistic – but assuming it’s a possibility – what can I do to help reduce her challenges, or make her feel less anxious?
Wow. That’s a lot for you to be dealing with as a family. How are you feeling? (Or, how do your concerns make you feel?)
What are the next steps for you, and is there anything I can do to support you?
And for educators…
And for educators – if the teacher lacks exposure to autistic children, or hasn’t had the experience in terms of spotting the very subtle cues of autism that are shown as autistic children develop:
Let’s talk to the SENCO about your concerns.
I will observe the child in the classroom and note down any anxiety-related behaviours, or reactions to social or sensory situations.
I will talk to any colleagues at the school with experience of un-diagnosed autism cases, to see if they have any procedures or experiences that we can draw from.
Autism and education
In terms of educators, Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society states:
“More than 1 in 100 children are on the autism spectrum. So every teacher will have autistic students in their classes at some point in their careers and they deserve to be given the understanding and skills they need to teach autistic children effectively. Teachers don’t need to be experts in autism. A fundamental knowledge of what it means to be autistic and the often simple adjustments that can help, could transform the experience of autistic pupils at school.’
It’s worth noting that if a parent has expressed concerns to a teacher or SENCO about their child, their concerns should be taken seriously, even if absolutely no obvious signs or behaviours are seen at school.
The National Autistic Society states: Before your child is identified as needing SEN support in school, the class teacher and SENCO should make an analysis of their needs, using the teacher’s assessment and experience and evidence of their progress, attainment and behaviour. Your views and your child’s views should also be taken into account. You should always be consulted and kept informed of any action taken to help your child and of the outcome of this.
We hope this article is useful, or provides food for thought for any parents struggling to get family members or educators to ‘believe’ their concerns that a child is on the autism spectrum. Essentially, when responding to a parent’s concerns, we believe it’s generally unhelpful to start a sentence with ‘I am sure’, unless you’re clinically qualified to diagnose autism. As this can seem judgemental or belittling to the parent!
It’s always a good idea for parents to document their concerns in the way of diaries, videos etc. This can be useful to show educators, doctors and health visitors (for pre-school children), and shows the parent has done their research, and is serious about their concerns. A benefit of keeping a diary is that any behavioural patterns can be spotted, and links made to external factors. Elements like sleep, nutrition, social responses, anxiety and any patterns of behaviours (and their timings, e.g. within an hour of leaving school), can all be noted.
To conclude, we’re not trying to be judgemental ourselves about other people’s lack of exposure and experience to autism, but simply want to raise some interesting points of debate that could help parents on their journey towards their child’s assessment for autism.
Further reading: read about the key features of autism in this blog.
A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.
Also published on Medium.