I have heard some real corkers over my years and sadly been privy to what other parents have had to listen to. Mothers of all children with special needs and autistic children likely hear a whole lot of different things throughout their journeys, so to make appropriate social conduct a bit clearer and more defined, below is a list of what I believe is better not to say — with my responses next to them.
1. “Have you tried giving the Paleo diet a go?” — Why?
2. “My nephew had autism, but he grew out of it.” — Autism isn’t something you can grow out of.
3. “But she looks so normal.” — So what does autism look like, to you?
4. “Maybe she’s just attention seeking.” — In which case, there would still be an underlying cause as to why.
5. “But her eye contact is so good!” — Autistic people can have good eye contact — it is a myth to assume it’s impossible.
6. “Are you sure?” — No, I just make this stuff up to make myself feel good.
7. “But she’s so social!” — Autistic girls can be really social, and people who are autistic can also really enjoy the company of others. They may just tire immensely afterwards.
8. “But all kids do that!” — But do they do it all day, every day?
9. “Everyone is a little bit autistic!” — No. You can’t be a little bit autistic. The diagnostic criteria is long and complex; you are or you are not.
10. “If that is what autism looks like then maybe I am autistic, too!” — Hmm.. Well, maybe you are?
11. “I’m so sorry.” — Why, what did you do?
12. “Why does every child need a label these days?” — Because labels or diagnoses can help struggling children gain support, and they can also help in educating others and raising acceptance for neurodiversity.
13. “She’ll eat when she’s hungry.” — Except she won’t. Because autistic food issues are driven by anxiety and sensory issues, and children on the spectrum may starve themselves if they don’t have access to the food they will eat alongside food that is new to them.
14. “Didn’t Rain Man have autism?” — *Face palm.*
15. “But she doesn’t behave like that around me.” — She may be keeping it together around you because she doesn’t feel comfortable letting it out when you’re around. It is well-known that girls on the spectrum rarely ever melt down at school or kindergarten, and mostly always only around their trusted inner-circle.
So what should you say, instead? Well, how about:
“Wow, you’re a great mom!”
“I hope you take a breather for yourself later.”
“Let’s have a cup of tea and a chat sometime.”
“Your daughter is really lucky to have you as her advocate.”
“She’s an amazing little person, isn’t she?”
“Hello. What are you up to today?”
“I’d love to learn more. What can you tell me?
“Here’s the cider/wine/chocolate.”
Remember people, autistic children are human beings — every judgment you make about them, in front of them, they are listening to. They think and feel things just as everyone else does, sometimes they can just feel them in different ways. Every mother of an autistic child can spend a great percentage of every day of her life advocating for her child, and if it isn’t apparent to you that the child is autistic — that might just show you how hard everyone is working together to make the life of the child fuller, easier and happier all around.
If in doubt, simply be kind.
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