So, following on from our article we posted yesterday, here are ten really positive things you can say to parents who have a child with autism.
1. “Wow! I can’t believe how far they have come!”
Even if the distance from where our child was to where they are now seems minuscule to you, chances are it is a huge, expansive distance to us! Commenting on progress is a beautiful thing to say, but only if you truly see progress or change. This is one of the most welcome and kind things that you can do, if you do believe it, then please say it. And be prepared to be hugged!
2. “He/She is so good at… [insert anything here].”
Whether it’s a perfect impression of their favourite TV character, how long they can sit watching the same episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and recite every word perfectly, or their ability to memorise all the details of Arsenal Football Club’s History, point it out. Point out the positives. See the positives. We see it. We know it. We love when you do, too.
3. “My friend’s son has autism and he is in college now.”
Okay, we know that your friend’s, son is not our child, and we know that autism is a spectrum of strengths and struggles, but, hearing success, hearing good news and having you share that in a kind, accepting and compassionate way, makes us love you, even if we don’t know you. We hope you like hugging strangers!
4. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Asking this question in the middle of aisle six in the busy, loud grocery store where our child is currently having a huge sensory meltdown as we try to calm him down and discreetly scooch the glass shards from the spaghetti jar that just missed your head under our cart, rather than staring at what you believe may be an “undisciplined child” having a temper tantrum, may possibly make you the hero in a blog story that goes viral on social media three hours after you get home from the grocery store.
We know people are staring. We know people are judging. We know people don’t get it. That’s why those eight simple words from just one person are beautiful. Oh, and sorry about the spaghetti sauce on your shoes.
5. “He/She feels so much, doesn’t he?”
This is a kind, compassionate and understanding way to say that when you see our child crying easily, melting down regularly, and being terribly inflexible, you are letting us know that you recognise that there may be more than meets the eye and that our child is not bad, and neither are we.
6. “He/She is fascinating.”
Not weird, not odd, not quirky. The way their mind works is fascinating and often has us in awe and wonder. We love knowing that you see their mind as extraordinary and not as something that is broken and needs to be “fixed.”
7. “He/She really loves you.”
Yes they do! There is such a misconception that children with autism don’t feel love, that their emotions are too bogged down by autism to “feel,” but, trust us, they feel love, they know love, they give love. And on days when it’s hard, on days where we have lost our patience, raised our voice and dried countless tears, we don’t feel very loveable, so it’s great when others see and feel that love, too. We know that our child loves us like no other and although that love may look “different,” it is never to be trivialised or minimised.
8. “I wonder what they are thinking?”
If you only know how many times a day we have wondered the VERY same thing. “If only we could get inside their head,” “If I only knew what they were feeling,” “If only they would let us in” has crossed every parent’s mind countless times. Knowing that you take the time to wonder means a lot.
9. “What is autism and why do they call it a spectrum?”
Yes, maybe we are tired of talking about The A Word, maybe we want people to see past autism and just see our child, but, we will never turn down an opportunity to educate someone about our child and debunk the “He/She doesn’t act like ‘Rain Man’” myth. So please, ask away!
10. “He/She has taught me so much!”
These children see the world quite differently to you or I, and if you take the time to get to know them, really get to know them, you will open your mind and your heart to their world and you will be better for it.
11. “I brought alcohol.”
Even though you might not fully understand what loving a child with autism is like, the fact that you are here, on our doorstep, holding a bottle of happy juice and trying to understand, well, there are no words to express our gratitude.
12. “I have (whatever the one and only type of food is that child will eat).”
Yes we know we lied about it being ten, but the last two are really important too.
So, if we initiate a conversation; if we say the words, “My child has autism,” just give us a knowing look, a kind smile and ask, “How are they doing?” We may say “fine” or we may break into a 10-minute long discussion about how far they have come and how far we know they will go. Whichever it is, trust us when we say, we will always remember that you asked.