A parent that is raising a child with Autism has to deal with many challenges that other parents don’t have. While we may not necessarily be able to help them with these challenges, the least we can do is not add to them, and instead show our compassion and support.
Here are some of the worst things to say and what you should say instead
1. “I don’t think your child is autistic.”
Parents don’t go around with a self-diagnosis of their child claiming that he is autistic. Before they told you that their child has autism, they most likely went through several doctors, expert opinions, and other tests before coming to this conclusion. For most parents with autistic children, it can be hard to come to terms with the diagnosis themselves. Your words of doubt are not making it any easier to deal with.
A better option would be to ask, “I’m not so familiar with autism. How does diagnosing it work
2. “Does this mean that your child is going to become like one of those savants in the movies?”
We may think that by pointing out a possibility of genius in their child that we are helping out the situation: However, this comment comes off as very insensitive. Every parent looks at their child as special and loves them unconditionally. We don’t need to believe that our child is “smart” to feel better. The truth is that the number of savants from autism is less than 10% of those diagnosed.
A better option would be to ask, “What are the implications of this for your child?”
3. “My Co-workers daughter is also autistic so I know how it feels.”
Trying to create common ground and show compassion is a great thing to do. However, just because you know someone else with autism, doesn’t mean you understand my particular troubles. Every case of autism is different depending on where the child is on the spectrum.
A better option would be to comment, ”I don’t really have a way to relate to how challenging this is, but if there is anything I can do to help I would love to be there for you.”
4. “Your Child looks so normal around other children.”
At first glance this comment seems to be a nice thing to say to a parent. But, by making this comment you are telling us that you believe our child shouldn’t be normal. It hurts to think that our children are different and any reminder to this, even a subtle one can sting.
A better option would be to comment, “He plays really well, look how happy he is.”
5. “Have you ever tried this….”
Most parents with an autistic child have tried everything that had any chance of working. Your comment is coming from a place of care and concern, but can be easily misconstrued as – I’m not doing everything I can because I don’t love my child enough.
A better option would be to ask, “What are some of the things that you’ve used to help.” This starts a conversation where you can ask about a new therapy that you’ve heard of etc.
6. “Is the added stress making other areas of your life worse?”
The thought that our child is making other areas of our life worse is not pleasant. This is a topic that really should be avoided all together because it just adds to the pain that we may be already experiencing.
A better option would be to ask, “How is work going?”
7. “You really look like you need some personal time.”
Every parent needs personal time; however, not everyone has the luxury to get that time. When you say this, what you are really telling me is – You look bad. Nobody wants to be told that they don’t look good. Even when we are sick the comment disturbs us.
A better option would be to ask, “I love hanging out with Johnny. If you’d like me to take him to the park for an afternoon so you can relax a bit, it would really be my pleasure.”
8. “When is he going to grow out of it?”
Autism is not something that people just grow out of. There are ways to improve the situation; however, this is not always possible. If you do not know too much about autism, it’s okay to ask questions. Just keep in mind to be sensitive to questions that may not be appropriate, or can come off as hurtful.
A better option would be to ask, “I really don’t know much about autism, can you explain what happens moving forward?”
9. “G-d only gives us challenges that we can handle.”
This comment is not only inappropriate here, it should never be said at the time that someone is going through a difficulty in their life. Even though the statement is true, it doesn’t make the person feel any better and in fact can make them feel even worse if they don’t think they are currently handling it well. Just be there as a friend and don’t try to give them arguments for why this is happening.
A better option would be to comment, “You must be a really special person to have G-d give you such a beautiful soul to take care of.
10. The person that doesn’t even ask
The final thing to keep in mind is that people don’t like being treated differently. If you are too afraid to ask a question, or just stare at us or our child, it makes us really uncomfortable. We start to try and guess at all the questions or thoughts that might be going through your head, and usually they are worse than the ones that actually are.
It is important to be mindful and sensitive to say the right thing. However, saying nothing is also something to try and avoid. The reason that we shared this information with you is to get your support and compassion. And if you can’t think of something to say a warm hug or even a smile can be a good replacement.
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