35 Things Not to Say to the Mother of a Child With Autism

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autismAutism is a complex and mysterious disorder that baffles both the medical community and society at large. Because of that there are countless myths and misconceptions about it, and families who have children with autism are often met with comments from people that are insensitive at best.

Most people don't mean any harm. Some are simply at a loss for words, while others are really trying to help ... in their own off-target way. But that doesn't mean those encounters don't affect parents just the same. 

I gathered input from a group of mothers who are raising children with autism as to the most hurtful, insensitive, and outrageous things people have said to them. I cringed at a few that I may have said at some point in my life (#2), but mostly I was blown away by the blatant ignorance some of these statements reflect. So in the name of building more awareness and abolishing some of these misconceptions, here are 35 things NOT to say to the mother of a child with autism.

More from The Stir: 4 Ways You Can Try to Prevent Autism Now

1. There's a book out about how to cure your kid.

2. Oh, my kid does that.

3. All kids do that.

4. He'll/she'll outgrow it.

5. But he seems so normal!

6. I'm so sorry.

7. That's such a trendy thing to have right now.

8. Have you tried spanking him?

9. Are you worried about his future?

10. I can't believe you had more kids.

11. Special children are such a blessing, aren't they?

12. Is he ignoring me?

13. Oooh, I just LOOOOVE special needs children.

14. God wouldn't give you more than you can handle.

15. Are you sure he's autistic?

16. Do you think he'll ever learn to drive?

17. You just need to give him more social opportunities. Join more groups.

18. When I was a kid, we just weren't allowed to act that way. It wasn't an option.

19. He'll grow out of it and be the next Bill Gates.

20. But he's so happy!

21. Get him in early intervention, and he'll be fine.

22. What's wrong with him?

23. But he's so smart...

24. I would never be able to do what you do for your kids.

25. God chose the parents well.

26. What is her savant skill?

27. My kids tantrum [or whatever] all the time, too!

28. Sometimes I think have autism, too!

29. If I only gave her more vitamins, I could cure her.

30. Ugh, my toddler just will not SHUT UP! I'm about to go nuts with the incessant talking! -- said to mother of non-verbal child.

31. Everyone has something.

32. Aren't you afraid?

33. I didn't have kids because my brother/uncle/cousin has autism, and so I didn't want to risk it.

34. But he's so beautiful and he looks so normal.

35. In the 80's it was dyslexia, in the '90s ADHD, and now it seems autism is the popular diagnosis.

As for something helpful to say. One mom shared this:

I'd been sitting on the sidewalk with B for about half an hour waiting for a meltdown to subside when a lady walked by and said, "Hang in there, Mom." I felt almost hugged by the inclusion of that statement. I wish I'd gotten to thank her, but I looked up and she was gone.

What would you add to the list?


Image via Beverly & Pack/Flickr


autism, kid health


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nicol... nicoleeolee

....So basically "nothing" would be the right thing to "say"? 

Rebecca Nelson Murman

A good thing to say would be "Tell me about him/her." EVERY mom likes to talk about their child. :)

bills... billsfan1104

Some of those questions are ones of concern, like the one "are you afraid"? What's wrong with that one? Nicole is basically right, to me you don't want anyone asking or saying shit.

nonmember avatar Emily E.

As a behavior specialist that works with children who have autism this list is pretty inclusive. However, there is a misconception even by parents that their children behave a certain way because of their disability and that is just not the case. Sure the social cues and communication are off however, every behavior serves a function. Therefore, if your child knows hitting will get him what he wants he will hit you and whom ever else to receive whatever preferred item/ activity. Using a disability as an excuse is really detrimental to the success of any child. And it comes to a point, and I see this every day, that discipline is a major factor along with teaching alternative skills.

The general public truly does not understand the work and trials and tribulations that go into raising a child with autism. Autism is not a curable disorder, however through intensive interventions major improvements an be made. Raising awareness is key, along with being supportive.

knitt... knittykitty99

I have a child with autism.  We have had amazing success with therapies.  Am I allowed to talk to you or do even those with knowledge have to shut up?

terry... terryfergus

I've heard: Ugh, can't you make him use his inside voice? Or: Get him out of here, what if he hurts somebody? (He is a child! Just standing there in a playground!) Or: how do I know? (to be polite to him) he looks like everyone else... How about be kind to ALL children, disabilities or not.

NatAndCo NatAndCo

What's wrong with 25?

marney.p marney.p

Inclusiveness is interacting with all people in a positive way. We may sometimes make mistakes and not use politically correct therms, however it is better than the alternative. Which is ignoring someone because you dont want to offend them, or deal with a difficult situation that often involves conflict, or misunderstandings

mleil... mleilanim

2, 3,&14 appear to be an empathetic effort to acknowledge that even though the child may have autism he/she is still a child & therefore engages in things all kids do. I see no issue or recourse with these remarks. As for the rest....plain ignorance on the subject & thats not to say the commentee is ignorant its just that they dont know enough...cant 'really' hold that against them.

The "hang in there..." comment is just as equivalent as the aforementioned trio. She has no clue why the childs having a meltdown, as ALL kids do, she's just attempting to show empathic mother:mother support.

I dont know.....in some instances your 35 could well enough be left from within earshot of any sensitive mother.

Mommi... MommietoJB

Most moms of autistic children are not that sensitive to other peoples comments, to get mad at most of those things on your list would be a big waste of energy. Most people are tremendously nice and positive in my experience. I for one hear a lot of "he looks so normal","really you cant tell hes autistic","he will outgrow it". Only autistic moms can really feel uneasy with these comments because we know our child is struggling & has a real disorder thats not a fad and not made up in our heads.

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