April is autism awareness month. About one in sixty-eight children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions that can make having an autistic child even more difficult.
I spoke to several parents of children with ASD and here are some answers to the questions that they frequently get asked:
1. Is your kid a genius like Rain Man?
The spectrum covers a wide range of developmental disabilities and IQ levels. You can’t expect every child with autism to be just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. Every autistic child is different. This isn’t a one size fits all disorder. Parents of autistic children want you to get to know their child for his or her strengths and weaknesses, instead of making assumptions based on their diagnosis.
2. Are you sure your child has autism?
Most parents have been to multiple specialist and have had their child evaluated by several professionals in the field. They have gotten first, second, and sometimes even third opinions and have questioned everything themselves. They don’t need you doubting that their child has a disorder or doubting if the disorder is real. Keep your doubts to yourself, they are not helping anyone.
3. How did your child get autism?
The honest truth is that nobody knows how and why children get Autism. Most researchers agree that there is no link between autism and vaccines, but the real cause is still unknown. The one thing I can tell you is that it isn’t the fault of the parent or the child.
[Tweet “6 questions NOT to ask parents of an autistic child @HTLifewithboys #autism”]
When you ask this question or you take it farther and speculate yourself, you can cause a lot of pain. A parent of an autistic child can tear themselves apart pondering how or why. Once a child is diagnosed with ASD it is more important to focus on how to give the child the support they need, instead of looking for someone or something to blame.
4. Is Autism Contagious?
No! ASD isn’t like the flu or chicken pox. Your child can’t get it by sitting in class next to an autistic child. Please, don’t be ridiculous!
5. Have you tried “this cure” for Autism?
There is no cure for Autism. It is a biological condition that can’t be changed. Treatment and therapy can help an autistic child manage their ASD, but they are always going to be autistic. Parents who have children with ASD don’t want to hear how you read that giving up red food coloring, sleeping upside down, or running around in the rain naked will reverse their child’s ASD.
The truth is it won’t. If it could, they would have done it already.
6. Why don’t you just punish your child and make them behave?
There is nothing harder for a parent of an autistic child than when their child throws an inconsolable tantrum in public. When you see a child acting out, please don’t assume that the child is bad, needs to be punished, or that the parent is doing a horrible job. They are doing the best that they can and even parents with kids who don’t have ASD experience public tantrums every now and then. Make the world a better place and shoot the parent an understanding smile, instead of a judgmental dirty look.
Now that we have discussed what not to say, there was one question that every parent I spoke to said they wished they would get asked more:
“Can my child be friends with your child?”
The answer to this question is a resounding yes! Please invite your child’s autistic classmate or neighbor over for a one on one playdate. Most kids with ASD really want to make friends, but end up socially isolated. Teach your children to include everyone and to celebrate people’s differences. Everyone deserves friendship!
Tiffany O’Connor is a mom to two amazing, energetic, and fearless boys. She is married to her high school sweet heart and has three college degrees. Her hobbies include watching TV shows about zombies, hiding in her hot tub with a bottle of champagne, and writing all about her misadventures parenting in a “man cave” at #Lifewithboys.
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