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To Parents of Children With Autism, From an Autistic Adult

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Dear parents of children with autism,

I am not a parent. Still, I’ve heard it’s a hard job — the hardest job you’ll ever love. I would imagine having a child with a disability is even harder, not because you love them any less, but for the simple fact you may have to do even more things for your child. If that child has autism, one of those things may be to speak for them. But of course you’ll do it, because you love them. And you know your child better than anyone else. So you advocate for them, you speak when they can’t, and you always have their back. That’s admirable.

But please remember, you speak for your child and yours alone. So, if you’re going to say something like “it’s person with autism — the term ‘autistic’ is offensive” please stop and consider who you’re speaking for. Because at that point, it’s not your child. You’re trying to speak for the entire autism community, and quite frankly, you’re not qualified to do that. I’m not even qualified to do that, and I’m autistic.

Yes, autistic. Many, though not all autistic people prefer the term. Many, like me, feel our autism is a huge part of what makes us who we are, and we don’t want to separate ourselves from that. Besides, being autistic doesn’t make me any less of anything else, just like being blonde doesn’t stop me from being a million other things. Again, I can’t speak for everyone. I can only speak from my experience — and my experience is that a lot of autistic people prefer identity-first language.

My experience is also that parents of children with disabilities want to step in and help those who need it whenever they can. I believe this comes from a place of love, with the best of intentions. I can only imagine that many parents of children with disabilities are used to doing what needs to be done and not hesitating to step up when there’s a problem. But sometimes that hesitation is important, because sometimes there isn’t a problem at all.

Please keep standing up for your child. They need you, even if they don’t have a disability. But remember you and your child are individuals. Even if you are part of a group, you can’t speak for the whole group. Even if you don’t mean any harm, when you make generalizations that attempt to speak for the entirety of a marginalized group — especially one you are not a part of yourself — it does cause harm. It can drown out the voices of others in the group, cause them to doubt themselves, and scare them away from sharing their own stories and opinions.

In the end, I will call you or your child whatever you prefer, because it’s common courtesy to do so — whether it be labels, gender pronouns or nicknames. All I ask is for the same respect in return, and the understanding that this world is full of many different opinions and feelings. That’s what makes it beautiful.

Getty image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz.

Originally published: February 6, 2019
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