What to Say and Not to Say to the Parent of a Child With Autism


I’ve written quite often about how having a child with autism forces you to have far more patience than you ever thought you could have… but there are still limits. And even though your patience levels can seem limitless for your child, you may find you don’t have the same tolerance when it comes to others or some of the ignorant things they say, whether innocently intentioned or not.

There are a few lists out there of things not to say to us parents, but this is more of a list of things not to say or else you may just push us beyond the breaking point. Don’t worry, though, I’ll follow it up with some things I think would actually be nice to say.

Do not say:

  • Your kid just needs proper discipline.
  • My kids would never get away with that.
  • What made your kid autistic? Was it something you did?
  • You shouldn’t take your kid out if they’re just going to be like that.
  • Your kid doesn’t look autistic.
  • Are you sure your kid is autistic?
  • Why would you have more children if there’s a risk they could have autism, too?
  • Sorry, I don’t really want my child to play with yours.
  • Your kid will grow out of it, right?
  • Autism? That’s like “Rain Man,” right?
  • It must be nice to get special funding or special help!
  • You need to watch your kids better
  • Maybe you’re just bad parents.
  • But all children do that.
  • But your kid was so good for me.
  • Referring to your child with a nickname such as “Rain Man.”

Yes, these are actual phrases I’ve heard or have heard secondhand from parents who told me someone said it to them. OK, now that your blood is boiling, let’s continue on.

Here are some nicer things to hear.

Do say:

  • You’re doing such a great job.
  • I don’t know how you’re able to do so much.
  • Your child is progressing so well; you must be very proud.
  • If I can help, just let me know.
  • I don’t know much about it, but I’m willing to learn.
  • I’ve read some studies and heard the news, but I’d love to hear what you think.

I’d love to hear some good suggestions from you. What have you heard or what would you like to hear?

A version of this post originally appeared on Stuart Duncan’s blog.

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