Oh the funny things parents of autistic kids or even Autistics themselves hear from people. People, lovingly guided by their stereotypes or Rain-Man-only knowledge of autism feel as though autism is autism…it looks, acts, feels the same in different people. You see this a lot with people with Down syndrome as well (anyone else notice the non-use/ use of person-first language in these sentences? Given the preferences laid out by the respective communities, both sentences are written correctly. How bout that, huh?).
For autism, a lot of time it centers around the person NOT having autism. That the diagnosis is wrong because they know more than the specialists, the therapists and even the parent. OR they’re just trying to be nice and totally miss the mark.
Here are a few of our favorites. He/She can’t be autistic because…
“She can talk”
“He seems so ‘normal’ ”
“She can do grade level school work”
“He makes eye contact”
“He isn’t like the other autistic kid I met”
“He likes other kids!”
“He doesn’t look autistic”
“He makes jokes. Autistic people don’t know how to joke.”
“She’s not a savant.”
“He doesn’t stim” (Use repetitive movements to self soothe)
“She’s so smart!”
“He loves to cuddle.”
“She understands sarcasm”
“He’s not like the Rain Man at all!”
“He has friends”
“He plays team sports”
“ALL kids do that!”
“Because he reminds me too much of myself, and there’s no way that I have Autistic proclivities. All my friends hate parties, crowds and clothes, too.”
“She count stack of things by just looking at them”
“She’s married, holds a full time job and is a mother.”
I fully understand that people don’t know what to say when they learn that your child has autism. I can’t imagine what it’s like for autistic adults to explain that they themselves have autism. People want to downplay the symptoms in an effort to offer hope, I’m sure. But what it really does is downplay the experience we’re going through. All people with autism are as different from each other as people without. When a person tells you about their or their child’s diagnosis the best thing you can do is simply to listen and ask questions. If you don’t know a lot about autism, that’s fine. Tell them that. “I’m not very familiar with autism, can I ask you some questions?” Is a welcomed sentence. But even if you’ve said the sentences above before, or even if you’ve said something that made you cringe later, it’s better than the WORST thing you could say: nothing at all.
We parents want to talk about our kids, autistic or not. We’re proud of our kids and what they’ve accomplished- again, autistic or not. Most autistic adults will tell you what their autism does to benefit them. They see it as an important piece of who they are and what makes them unique and wonderful. Autism isn’t a dirty word and it isn’t something we don’t want to talk about.
This is Casey. He’s autistic. It makes for rough times, but it makes for the sweetest times, too. He’s not the Rain Man. He’s not a savant- that we know of- he’s his own person with his own abilities, interests, and feelings. He’s my most empathetic child. I could not love him more.