What NOT to Say About Autism: Special Needs Living

Sheri Reed

mother child handsThis week, aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, discusses a few of the things she wishes people would *not* say or do in regard to her special needs child or her parenting — as well as some kinder ideas for what to say or do instead.

What NOT to Say or Do to a Parent of a Special Needs Child

by aurorabunny

Overall, people have been very kind to my son and me in regard to his disability. We've never really had any rude encounters out in public so far, and I definitely can't match some of the horror stories that I've heard from other moms. I try to always answer questions that people may have and be very open about Brody and his autism. That said, there are still always a few things that never fail to get my goat.  

1. "It's so great that you do so much for him; I just couldn't do it." 

Oftentimes, this comment seems to have a bite behind it, as if the person saying it wouldn't wish this task on their worst enemy or even as if I'm some kind of saint. I think the media portrayal of special needs moms as ever-patient martyrs just makes this worse. It makes me want to respond by saying, "Oh, I just knew that I could do it, hence why I signed my name on the 'I'd like an autistic child, please' list that God was passing around." Come on, moms!

You know how much you fell in love with that little person the second you looked into your child's eyes. You could and WOULD do anything for them if you had to, disability or not. Don't sell yourselves short OR assume that I am beneath you or above you or anything other than just another mom. 

2. "To fix him, you should... [insert therapy/diet change/yoga position here]."

Treatment and "cure" ideas from moms who aren't affected by autism is very vexing to me personally. I don't mind at all if people ask questions about any of those theories, but it's just going to tick me off if you tell me that my son would be magically cured if only I would do whatever your hairdresser's cousin did with her child.

And I would be rolling in money right now if I had a nickel for every freakin' time someone asked me if I knew that Jenny McCarthy's son had autism too and that she wrote a book, which would most likely fix all of my problems.

3. Acting as if autism is a communicable disease

The thing that bothers me the most, or maybe saddens me the most, isn't something that anyone verbally says. It's when other parents rush their children along past my son, as if his disability might be contagious.

I do want other moms to know that short of comments that are glaringly ignorant ("So is he going to be like Rain Man when he grows up?"), there are no stupid questions or comments, at least not to me.

I would much rather have a mom sit down next to me at the playground and genuinely ask why my son may be doing something or making a certain noise repeatedly than just shoot us a look of pity and walk away as fast as possible. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and never be afraid to lend some non-judgmental support. Something as simple as another mom giving me a friendly "been there" smile while my son is having a meltdown is often enough to totally lift my spirits, especially since special needs moms can often feel like they're being judged a lot more harshly than the average parent.

Sometimes I think that the bottom line is as simple as something we all probably learned in kindergarten: We're all people, no matter how different we may look, act, or speak. If you're keeping that idea in your mind as much as possible, the chances of your ending up on the "what NOT to say" list are pretty slim. 


When it comes to parenting, special needs or otherwise, what comments do you prefer NOT to hear? What comments or actions are most helpful to you as a parent?


Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

Sick Special Needs Kid Woe

Announcing Autism


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