Six Things NOT To Say To A Parent Who Suspects Their Child May Be Autistic
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the key things one shouldn’t say to a parent who believes their child may be autistic. Maybe you can helpfully share the article with them? Or share our ‘What Is Autism?’ blog!
Let’s be clear – if the parent has taken the trouble to research autistic neurologies, and a third party is struggling to understand and comprehend what they’re talking about, chances are that the parent is more educated than the friend or family member, at this point. So please, third party, do hear them out!
Here are our Top Six Things NOT To Say To A Parent Who Suspects Their Child May Be Autistic:
1.”He doesn’t look autistic.” (Or: “He doesn’t look like there’s something ‘wrong’ with him.”)
No, that’s because autism doesn’t have a ‘look’. Although the autist may behave differently (in terms of vocal inflections, conversational beats, social interactions etc), to the untrained eye there’s often no obvious way to tell, strictly from how someone looks. And in any case, autism isn’t ‘wrong’. Language can be so important to families learning about neuro-minorities.
2.”But he makes eye contact. He can’t be autistic.”
They’d better have a read of our blog on busting the myths concerning autistic people and eye contact! Autistic people CAN make eye contact, however on occasions, the autistic person may just be TOLERATING the eye contact. They may need to avert their eyes to aid processing, as well.
3.”So what caused the autism?”
That’s a whole different conversation. Autism is a complex condition, and current thinking is that it may occur as a result of genetic predisposition (a natural tendency), as well as (external) environmental issues, and (so-far) unknown factors. But, in the opinion of this author, the UK’s National Health Service, and all reputable autism charities and organisations, autism is not caused by vaccines. (Twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism.) What’s more important is how to support the autistic person through their journey of life.
4.”What’s his special skill?”
Um….. that’s a little patronising. Yes, we know that many autistic characters on TV (like the BBC’s excellent ‘The A Word’) have special skills. But many of the autistic characters depicted in the TV and film world tend to be tropes, rather than realistic representations. Not all autistic kids have advanced ‘special skills’ and in any case, maybe the child in question hasn’t found their niche yet? There are many successful adults and young adults who have succeded in a niche field thanks to their autistic way of seeing the world, but it’s rarely a ‘special skill’, like some other-worldy gift – just their dedication to getting things right, being the best, and being hyper-focussed about a particular skill, or set of processes.
5.”Are you sure he isn’t just naughty?”
That’s also patronising. Naughty behaviour is after all just communication, so if the child in question seems to be displaying behaviours that are deemed inappropriate by others, let’s all be grateful that we have this useful feedback with which to help the child feel more comfortable! Maybe the autistic child has been over-stimulated, or is feeling panicky? It’s unwise for an onlooker or third party to bring discipline into the equation, as the parent cannot help but feel criticised. Also, some autistic profiles, especially like PDA, involve behaviours that can seem ‘naughty’, but are in fact linked to fear of uncertainty, as well as anxiety and demands.
6.”I’m sorry to hear that.” (Said with ‘Poor you’ intonation.)
There’s nothing to be sorry about. If he’s autistic, this child will just see the world differently. Autism is neuro-developmental diversity – a lifelong profile that affects how the person communicates with and relates to other people. Support is welcome, but pity, not! Autists, like all individuals, have very many great traits and values, and just struggle sometimes in this fast-paced, sensory-focussed world. Support is key to help the child develop their strengths, and families can make or break the deal, here. Autistic children can be super-intelligent and uber-empathetic, and many will undoubtedly go onto make great world-changes, thanks to their tenacity and skills. So no pity required at all!
(NB – This isn’t a real numbered tip in our list. Just a tip: To anyone whose friend or family member has divulged that they believe their child may be on the autistic spectrum. Please don’t ever consider getting them an ‘Autism Mom’ or Autism Warrior’ T Shirt. Our article HERE explains why!)
So, if these are the things NOT to say, what SHOULD someone say if their friend or family member has disclosed that they believe their child may be autistic?
Violet Fenn, writing for the UK’s Metro, has these tips:
“I don’t understand autism, can you tell me more?”
“Are you okay?”
“Can I help right now?”
“How are you?” (Directed at the child).
“Would your son/daughter like to come?” (E.g. to an event or party).
ALSO – we have written a series of articles aiming to assist grandparents and families of young autists; click to read them. (#mygrandchildisautistic?!)
We hope this article has been useful! Please note that as we always say in each blog post, 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.
PS – We can recommend this book as a useful guide for friends and family members – Jude Welton’s “Can I Tell You about Autism?: A Guide for Friends, Family and Professionals’ – see the link below.
Also published on Medium.