5 Things You Should Stop Saying to Autism Parents
I've been living with Autism for ten years. It tends to throw you for a loop when you least expect it. A new obsession, bullying, strange fears. As a parent, you just want to have all the hopes and dreams in the world for all of your kids, but your heart sinks when people say stuff like this.
Keep in mind, I live in the world of Autism. My son Boston was diagnosed with PPD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) right after he turned two. In layman's terms that means "he's on the Autism Spectrum, but we don't really know where he falls on that spectrum yet." He was officially diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 3. This means he is high-functioning or he can function in life without a lot of significant struggles, compared to someone with classic Autism who may be non-verbal and/or unable to live on their own. I've probably read 20+ books on the subject, so I get that I am much more knowledgeable than the general public, but here's some advice if you run into a parent who has a child on the Autism Spectrum (or maybe specifically with Asperger's.) Don't say these things.
1. He seems so normal!
Ok, so what is normal? Am I normal? I'm not sure. What did you expect him to be like? He's just like you and me. He's a person. He likes sports, goes to school, talks about being a detective when he grows up, is starting to think girls are cute. Is he quirky? Yeah, you could describe him that way. He's obsessed with sports stats, has this paralyzing fear of our hamster dying even though he doesn't like the hamster, and can't help but squish my arm when he gets anxious, but I hate that word "normal."
2. He's not like this other kid that I know with Autism
Yeah, because guess what... he's not that other kid. He's not the guy in "The Big Bang Theory" or Dustin Hoffman's character in "Rainman." He has his own strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. Not everyone with Autism is the same. Not even close. In fact, not everyone that has Asperger's or classic Autism is the same, don't put them in a box.
3. Oh is he super smart?
Nope, he's not a savant. I can't drop a box of matches and he immediately knows how many fell out of the box. I don't see him being the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. He's a really good speller and represented his school at the Scripps Regional Spelling Bee last May, and he can tell you a lot of random sports facts about athletes and sports teams, but I was just alerted he has a "D" in his English Lit class. He's smart in some areas, but I'm still saving for college.
4. Oh, Autism, is that like Down Syndrome or (Insert some other disorder)?
First off, let me say I love lots of kids that have Down Syndrome. We host "The Buddy Walk" every October and we emcee the "Idaho Miss Amazing" pageant, which celebrates girls with lots of different challenges in our community, but they are not all the same. The kids aren't all the same, their challenges aren't all the same, their disorders aren't all the same. I'm going to throw my bestie, Rick Dunn, under the bus for this one because for years he would say "Now, I forget, what is the difference between Down Syndrome and Autism?" Um, a lot buddy, a lot. First off, there is no chromosomal test for Autism. There isn't even a blood test. It's simply a cluster of characteristics that a person possesses and they say "oh yeah, all these other people out there have those similar struggles. We'll label that Autism." If you don't know what you are talking about, don't assume it's something else.
5. You didn't get him vaccinated, did you?
Actually, I did. I've had my daughter vaccinated too. You don't have to look too far to find scientific evidence that vaccines have nothing to do with Autism. Here's what the CDC has to say about it. Early on in my journey, I wanted to blame something, someone, for my son's struggles. The more and more research I did, I knew in my gut that vaccines had nothing to do with my son's Autism. I strongly believe it's genetic. In fact, despite the fact that I don't have Asperger's, I can pretty much guarantee he got it from me.
So, there you have it. I hope I haven't offended, but sometimes a little education goes a long way and next time you run into that Mama who has a child on the Autism Spectrum, you won't let these things slip out of your mouth!