I’m a 41-year-old author, autism self-advocate and government official with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. When I was a child, there was no appropriate diagnosis for me, so my family and I were pretty much on our own. I encountered some frightening and abusive people in my 20s and had to fight hard to get where I am now.
To parents of children on the autism spectrum, I give you these 10 tips in the hope they will help you and your child have a better life than I did and to help you avoid the pitfalls I made.
1. Many people think they know a lot about autism or Asperger’s, but they actually only know a little bit.
Parents can struggle with unsolicited and unwanted advice from many quarters. My mom had a procession of women who tried to mother me “better” than my she did. One of them even told her I would have been better off with her. If you deal with this, remember parents are usually the best judge of how to raise their child. Develop a pat response for the people giving the advice and only accept advice that helps.
2. When your child is newly diagnosed, you may be confused and desperate for answers.
As an adult on the autism spectrum, I can tell you it will most likely work out. Autism isn’t a curse or a plague; it’s simply a different way of processing the world and responding to it.
3. When your child is newly diagnosed, you may want to “fix” or “cure” it.
As you might imagine, there are a good many charlatans and latter-day snake-oil salespeople trying to make a buck from your desperation. There’s no known cause of autism and no “cure.” If someone tries to tell you there is and follows up with a sales pitch, decline.
4. Children on the autism spectrum are all individuals.
There’s a saying about autism: “If you have met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Your child is their own person and is as different to other kids with autism as two children with brown hair are from one another.
5. Adults on the autism spectrum can do everything other adults do.
Adults on the spectrum can study, have jobs, drive cars, have relationships and raise children.
6. People on the autism spectrum can often be told we can’t do things or will never succeed.
These low expectations come from all quarters, but they can frequently come from a position of love and care from parents who don’t want their children to be exposed to stressful experiences or difficulties. Whatever you do, resist the urge to shield your autistic child from every difficulty. A little adversity can help build resilience and independence. You don’t want to give your child an easy childhood only to condemn them to an unfulfilled adult life.
That being said, some adversity isn’t helpful and only causes misery. Bullying is one example of this. It doesn’t build resilience and causes trauma instead.
7. You are not alone.
There are many other autism parents in the world and many good resources for autistic kids and their parents can be found online and in the real world.
8. Autistic kids aren’t all geniuses.
But neither are they all below average intelligence. And I believe intelligence is a poor measure of a person’s worth or chances in life anyway.
9. Autistic children and adults might sometimes be trusting and naive.
Even if it seems hard to discuss these issues, instill a good deal of self-protection skills in your child, since predators seem to be able to spot a vulnerable person.
10. Your child is your child.
Autism is but one of their attributes. Even if they might not say it in so many words, they almost certainly love you as you do them.
Follow this journey on Jeanette’s website.
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