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5 Things I Don't Want to Hear as the Mom of an Autistic Child

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My little boy, H, is 4 years old. In July, 2017, after a year and a half of testing, he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Since then, it seems we have heard it all. I’ve had more looks, stares and hurtful comments made to me in the last two years than I’ve ever had in my entire adult life. The worst part is, this is my son being insulted — it takes restraint not to go all “Mamma Bear.” I also believe I am not the only parent of an autistic person who has to put up with these comments all too frequently.

So please, if someone you know tells you their child/loved one has been diagnosed with autism, or you see a badly behaved child in a supermarket, these comments are not helpful:

1. “That child just needs a good smack.”

I have no words for this one, really. Yet it’s the one I hear most often. A smack is not going to “cure” him (and yes, this has been suggested as a “cure!”). I will not cause him more distress when he is already in a distressed state.

2. “He doesn’t look autistic.”

I really hate this one. Autism does not have “a look.” I would like to reply, “You don’t look ignorant, and yet here we are,” but I am too polite for that.

3. “He’s just spoiled.”

No. Just, no. He might have over 100 toy cars in his toy box but that is not an indicator that he is spoiled. Cars are H’s special interest or his obsession. He can tell you any make and model of car simply by looking at the shape of it without any other indicators (like badge for example). He’s been able to do this since he was 3 years old. He can’t relax in a shop unless he has a car in his hand and if he spots one in a shop he doesn’t have then he “needs” it. Some kids collect stickers, Pokemon stuff, Barbies, action dolls — mine collects small metal cars. This is fine. It’s his hobby and he is very grateful for each car he receives, and that’s good enough for me.The fact he goes to lots of sports clubs for things like swimming and gymnastics? That’s not us “spoiling” him either. He needs to move. We found a way for him to channel his energy into something he enjoys doing that is productive. It’s not an indulgence, it is a need. He gets to have lots of proprioception his body craves.

4. “At least he has the good type of autism.”

There are no “good” or “bad” types of autism. Autism is autism and although there are traits that might be similar from one person to another, there are a magnitude of differences as well. That’s why it is a spectrum condition.

5. “Are you sure he has autism?”

Yes. I think health professionals have enough on their plates than to spend a year and a half assessing, reviewing and writing reports on my son just for the fun of it. Plus, are you serious? I am living with a child who is both brilliant and a challenge all at the same time. His mind is amazing. He can recall facts he learned months ago. He can remember every detail of every place we have ever visited, tell you the make and model of any car correctly, is in the high achiever’s group for every subject at school, memorizes every route we take in the car, but can’t remember what he had for lunch that afternoon. He takes everything literally and looks at you as if you’re confused when you say it’s “raining cats and dogs,” when it’s clearly raining water, “silly mammy.” Days out with him literally require military precision to avoid anything which may be a cause of distress to him. It requires scouting out new places carefully on the internet first — can you park right outside the door so we don’t have far to carry him if necessary? is it noisy? does it have bright lights, or will it be too dark? Asking me this just negates all our hard work.

I don’t mind anyone asking me about my son’s condition. I am always more than happy to talk about him (and I am very proud too!). Just please, don’t pass comments in ignorance, they help no one.

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Getty image by tatyana_tomsickova

Originally published: December 11, 2017
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