What every parent who has a child on the Autism Spectrum wants you to know

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I often hear stories from parents about their experiences taking their child who is on the spectrum to an event of some sort, and the stories are truly heartbreaking. The heartbreaking part is not what happened at the event with their child, but how the other parents reacted to their child. Many people tend to give advice, without being asked, based on their own experience because they want to help. It may come from a good place, but it can do more harm than good. Here are a few common things I hear that parents wish other people would know before making comments:

 

My child is different. What may work for you child may not work for mine. Please do not compare them and tell me that your child would never act that way, or s/he just needs a good spank. That is making me hurt more, and now it’s that much harder for me to handle the situation.

 

My child is not misbehaving. Children on the spectrum don’t always process things at the same rate. S/He is just trying to figure out what it is s/he does need to do to calm down, and what is expected of her/him. S/He will most often look like s/he is misbehaving when there is a quick change. Transitions can be very difficult. Children on the spectrum feel more comfortable with schedules and things that are expected. When things change suddenly, and there is not enough transition time to prepare, it can cause my child to look like s/he is misbehaving.

 

Be patient. The tantrums may make you uncomfortable, but imagine how uncomfortable my child is. S/He doesn’t understand how to calm down. S/He is trying. Children on the spectrum can have a difficult time communicating. S/He is frustrated that s/he is not being understood.

 

Be open minded. The “flapping” or “stemming” may be unusual to you, but it feels good to her/him. Children on the spectrum often have a difficult time with regulating themselves because they feel senses much differently than other people do. It can be very overwhelming for them. The motion they have chosen is soothing and can help calm them down. Let her/him “flap”.


When you aren’t sure what the background story is, and why someone (or their child) may be acting a certain way, please do try and think about it before commenting. If your original goal was to help, just asking what is going on or offering support can help more than your advice.

About Alison Silvius

I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and I enjoy supporting people in finding solutions to everyday problems. I work with people of all ages that struggle with social skills, are affected by addiction, and have suffered trauma/loss, amongst other things. My areas of interest include cognitive behavioral therapy, self esteem building, improved communication in relationships, grief/loss, and more.