The Top Ten Offensive Comments People Have Made About My Autistic Family

I have two beautiful and wonderful autistic children. I also married a unique and handsome autistic man (though we were married 19 years before he was diagnosed). They all enrich my life but being different does seem to attract attention at times…and not always positive attention!

As a parent and wife I have had to develop broad shoulders and thick skin to many things people say about my family. I thought I would share the top ten most offensive ones and explain why they hurt so much and what you could say instead.

Firstly I want to stress that this is not to condemn anyone or make them feel awful. It’s about education and understanding so if you have said any of the following don’t feel guilty just endeavour to think and understand more from now on. Thank you.

1. ‘Will they recover one day?’

Why is this offensive? Autism isn’t an illness or a disease that gets better. It is a lifelong difference that should be embraced and understood. By asking if my children will recover you are implying they have something awful that needs treatment or therapy to get rid of it. You can’t ‘get rid of’ autism and you insult my family by implying or suggesting they should get over, recover or get better from their unique differences.

It would be better to say ‘Maybe they will change the world one day!’

2. ‘It’s that modern day ‘in thing’ to cover up poor parenting.’

Why is this offensive? You are saying autism is fictitious and that the unique make up of my children and husband which makes them who they are is a negative thing brought about by something I (or in my husband’s case his parents) did. Autism isn’t ‘new’ despite the fact we now understand it better and therefore diagnose more often. Autism happens in poor families, rich families, highly skilled parents, working class, the unemployed and the elite. You will find autistic children and adults in families with a huge variety or parenting methods so there is absolutely no evidence to suggest it has anything to do with poor parenting and suggesting otherwise implies ignorance.

It would be better to say ‘It’s more common in modern days but hopefully that helps parents feel much less alone than before.

3. ‘I’m praying for a cure.’

Why is this offensive? You are praying to change the very being of who my children and husband are! You can’t cure or remove the autism from them any more than you can take out their hearts! God made them exactly who they are and he accepts them and loves them. Why would God want to cure someone he made wonderfully unique?

It would be better to say ‘I’m praying for you as life must be a bit more difficult at times for you.

4. ‘It’s a slap he needs not a diagnosis.’

Why is this offensive? It questions my parenting and implies my child is unruly and undisciplined when he is autistic, not a brat. We say autistic people are very rigid but in fact society is very rigid in how they expect people to behave. Acting differently to expected does not mean my child needs corrected it means we need to be more tolerant and understanding.

Instead you could say ‘It’s understanding he needs and that can start with me.’

5. ‘I hope none of my kids ever copy yours!’

Why is this offensive? It implies my child’s behaviour or actions is something unacceptable to others. It’s usually said to me when my child is flapping, spinning, making repetitive noises, or not answering when spoken to by a stranger. The fact my child is non verbal seems an alien concept to some. There are so many amazing things both my children (and husband) do that I think if other children (and adults) copied their resilience, energy, enthusiasm, excitement and empathy the world would actually be a better place.

Please rephrase your comment to ‘There is so much my children could learn from yours!’

6. ‘Oh everyone has a bit of that really so what’s the big deal?’

Why is this offensive? By implying everyone is on the autism spectrum you imply my children’s and husband’s struggles are not valid and their diagnosis is worthless. In order to be diagnosed with autism you have to meet a high level of criteria and be assessed by professionals in a number of fields of expertise. If we were all a little bit autistic why would we bother diagnosing anyone?

It would be much better to say ‘Oh you have a diagnosed condition. That’s quite a big deal!’

7. ‘They never had that in my day’

Why is this offensive? It implies autism is made up. You only need to meet my family to know this isn’t true. Oh and for the record my husband was born autistic and he’s 60 so it’s ‘been around’ much longer than people think!

Instead it could be said ‘I know autism was around in my days too but unfortunately it wasn’t as well recognised back then.’

8. ‘I’m so sorry. That’s awful.’

Why is this offensive? You are saying that my children and spouse are so defected and bad that them being autistic is something to be ashamed and depressed about. There is nothing awful about autism. Don’t say you are sorry please. It is NOT a tragedy.

If you want to express love when someone is diagnosed please say something like ‘I’m so thankful for you. Being autistic doesn’t change you and I am still your friend.’

9. ‘Are you sure he should be in mainstream with normal kids?’

Why is this offensive? You just implied my child isn’t normal! You also implied my child has no right to be educated among his peers. That is dangerous, insulting and very very hurtful.

Instead be supportive and inclusive and tell me ‘I am so glad your son is in mainstream with my child. It’s how it should be and we all gain from it.’

10. ‘He seems fine to me!’

Why is this offensive? Because my son, my daughter and my husband are all fine already! They do have struggles (wether others see them or not), they do react differently to others sometimes and they may communicate in unique ways but they are perfectly ok too. Just because we don’t see someone’s struggles does not mean they don’t exist.

It’s much more respectful to say ‘You look well. I am proud of how well you are doing.’

The vast majority of people don’t mean to offend and I understand that. However a more careful choice of words and respect go such a long way.

Here’s a cute picture of the three most amazing autistic people I know. Why would anyone want to say any of the above about them?

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The Loneliness Of A Special Needs Sibling

It’s just after 6:30pm and her brother has just had a seizure in the bath. While her mum pulls him out and dries him her dad rushes upstairs to help.

And she was left alone.

It’s 11am at the retail park and suddenly her brother has disappeared. Her mum shouts his name and runs to the lift knowing her brother loves them, while her dad runs to the door to make sure her brother hasn’t ran into the car park.

And she was left alone again.

It’s 2:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon and she is with mum and her brother at yet another hospital appointment. Her brother’s height is taken, his weight measured and the eye specialist looks into her brother’s eyes while talking to mum in words she can’t understand.

And it feels like she isn’t there at all, even though she is.

Life feels all about her brother. She can only go places if HE is well enough, if HE can cope with it, if there is provision for disabled children. She hears others at school talk about zoos, trampoline parks and ice-skating rinks but she has never experienced those. She could tell them about tonic clonic seizures, communicating with a non verbal brother or what an occupational therapist does. She knows that isn’t what anyone wants to hear about though.

So she just stays quiet.

She does her own thing. She finds her own way of coping. She is the epitome of resilience, the definition of bravery, the personification of inner strength.

But she’s lonely. So very lonely.

She’s typical of so many siblings lost in the shadows while the limelight shines on the sick sibling, the disabled brother, or the struggling sister.

Expected to carry on with homework while her brother screams, to try and watch TV without complaining while her brother has a meltdown, to still sleep while her brother bangs toys throughout the night because he sees no need for sleep.

These are the siblings whose loneliness we don’t like to see. We don’t like to admit that disability affects the siblings as much, if not more, than the child who is diagnosed. It makes us uncomfortable to think we have caused an innocent child to experience mental pain while we care for the physical pain of another child. We hope beyond hope that things will settle and one day we will ‘make it up to them’ for the times we couldn’t make their school play because their brother was sick or in hospital. But that day never seems to come.

So she just carries on.

Until one day she says ‘it feels like I am invisible sometimes.’

Then you realise the utter loneliness, the repeated rejection she had felt and the fear she experiences daily. You vow to change things but nothing, nothing, will take away her loneliness.

I promise you siblings, you are NOT invisible. You are the real hero’s in all this. You are the ones who’s smile keeps everyone going, whose humour brings life and whose strength inspires.

You may feel lonely but you are never alone.

I promise you so many other siblings understand and they have been where you are.

You got the raw deal here and I’m sorry.

This post first appeared here. Do check out my other blogs on Firefly (www.fireflyfriends.com) and my regular updates and thoughts on my Facebook page (faithmummy).

The Difference Between ‘getting better at coping’ and ‘growing out of Autism’

My daughter is now more than half way through her primary school years and in a few short years she will face the transition to high school. She has come so far since the day she was diagnosed with autism exactly a week before her fifth birthday.

She reads fluently.

She writes beautifully.

She has a friend.

She talks in long sentences and can have a full conversation with me.

She is ‘doing well’ at school.

She no longer flaps in public, hides under tables or cries when people look at her.

She’s growing, maturing and slowly getting independent. So much so that an acquaintance recently asked me if she still had autism.

I wasn’t sure wether I should laugh or cry.

For anyone who is in any doubt: autism is a life long condition. You don’t ‘grow out of autism’ but you can learn to adapt and cope better. It is the latter that my daughter is mastering.

She has realised that others laugh and mock you when you flap in the school dinner hall so she soon stopped doing it. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to or need to she just knows it’s not the acceptable thing to do.

She has learned social chit chat enough that when people she is familiar with make small talk she no longer comes across as confused or ignorant. We have spent years working through different social scenarios to help her learn coping strategies. We have spent months on the same social story until she could reply with a simple ‘I’m good thanks’ to the question ‘how are you?’ As long as conversations continue as she has practiced she appears to be a fluent communicator.

She has learnt that not everyone loves to hear non stop information on the same subject. She has learnt that not everyone needs the same strict order of events as she does and that other children enjoy the change from routine even if she doesn’t. She understands what is expected of her and does her best to conform.

She hasn’t been cured of autism in any way, she has just learnt that to get by in life she needs to mimic non autistic people in order to survive.

As a society we are telling autistic people, wether we agree or not, that being non autistic is the best way to be. We start at a young age by placing as many autistic students, like my daughter, in mainstream school in the hope that other students will ‘bring them on’ and perhaps even ‘cure’ them. We may never actually say as much but we expect THEM to change and not the other way round. If a child is unable to hide their autism, mask their sensory issues, or cope with the demands of everyday school life we deem them a problem and educate them elsewhere like they have somehow failed.

My daughter has learnt to do what society expects of her. She mirrors her non autistic classmates in order to survive and so to onlookers it can easily be mistaken that she no longer has autism just because they can’t see her autistic traits any more.

You can not grow out of autism. It doesn’t happen. My daughter will one day be an autistic adult. She is proud of her autism. She knows she is autistic and she isn’t ashamed. Yet in school she could easily be mistaken as the same as her peers.

It’s called camouflage autism and it’s extremely common in school children and adults.

They can look, act and talk like non autistic people but that doesn’t change the fact they are autistic.

The difference therefore between getting better at coping and growing out of autism is that the first is extremely common whilst the second is in fact impossible.

Just because I have spent years helping my child to cope in a world that is foreign to her does not mean she is cured.

Just because my child can make it through a day at school, or an adult can make it through a day at work does not mean they are not autistic.

They are autistic people all around you, living in your street, at your work, in the shopping centres and driving on the roads who have all developed ways to cope and live in a world that is different for them. They may appear the same but they aren’t. Camouflage autism is all around us, if only we knew.

Think of it this way. If an Australian came to live and work in the UK and over time lost their accent, their Australian ways of doing things and blended into UK culture would we no longer say they were Australian? Of course not.

So why do we think because an autistic child or adult is learning to cope better that they are suddenly no longer autistic?

Maybe if people really got to know others and embraced autism more we would see that while at times it is admirable to want to be like others it is also wonderful to be your true self too: autistic or not.

When The System Damages The Very Children That Need Support

I am not sure what I thought would happen the first time I had an appointment to take my children to the paediatrician. I guess maybe some basic physical checks like height or weight or maybe some referrals on to other professionals or departments. I naively expected that appointments to help my children would indeed help them and not impact on their mental health years later.

That first appointment was my first introduction to the ‘system’. For anyone not familiar with how things work in the world of special needs parenting we are given appointments where we are expected to take our children along while strangers smile at them, perhaps say a few remarks to them, and then they are expected to sit quietly while the adults discuss them.

Even when my children were just toddlers this never sat comfortably with me.

My children may have complex needs but one thing is certain: they can hear perfectly well.

So for years I have taken them to paediatricians, specialists, therapists, neurologists, nurses, educational meetings, had social workers in my house and they have even been taken out of class at school to attend school meetings about them. In every single one of these situations, for years and years, they have heard adults discussing their diagnosis, their difficulties, and their struggles, all the time while they have had to sit there and listen!

Is it any wonder so many of our children with additional needs go on to be diagnosed with anxiety and mental health problems?

Why are we allowing children to hear such negative talk about them all in the pretence of ‘support’?

I tried to keep it positive but it backfired. By saying how well my child was coping and praising their achievements professional support got withdrawn quicker than the weather changed!

I realised I needed to be honest about the struggles my children had in order to secure the right support, but this has come at a high cost: my own children’s mental health.

Years of hearing everyone around them talk about them like they don’t exist, years of hearing their autism spoken about like it is a thing to be disgusted, years of all the adults who should be inspiring them criticising them instead, years of hearing their own parents highlighting nothing but their weaknesses takes a toll on them.

I hate what the system has caused.

We ought to know better. Research has proven so many times that children (and adults) need encouragement, positivity and belief instilled in them. They need adults around them to see them as valued, precious and wonderful. That IS how I see my children. Yet in order for me to secure any services to support them I am faced with an awful dilemma of having to talk about my children’s struggles while they are in the same room and can hear every word.

The system, designed to support our most vulnerable, is in actual fact making our own children ill.

Please don’t think I haven’t tried to protect my children. I have tried all sorts from technology with headphones, to arranging care so they can leave the room, to even asking for meetings and appointments without my children present. The latter very rarely happens and my children are not daft. They know we are talking about them regardless.

I understand there are times medical professionals, education staff and social workers do need to physically see my children but could this not be done separately to protect young hearts and minds? Apparently this is not common place at all, well at least not in my area.

So 8 years after that first paediatrician appointment what has changed? Well we have had literally hundreds of appointments. Both of my children have long lists of names of professionals who have met them, talked about them or treated them. I have drawers full of paperwork. I still have a diary full of appointments. Yet what is the hardest of all to cope with is that I have two children who have anxiety, mental health struggles and low self esteem and they are not even ten yet!

What concerns me more is that my children are just two of millions.

We must do something now to change this. Children should not be sitting playing while adults discuss their difficulties EVER. It is unprofessional, cruel and causing long term mental health problems.

What sort of society are we when the system mentally damages the very children who need our support most?

While you think about that I am busy trying to rebuild my babies.

I Will Never Walk My Child To School

I’ll never walk my child to school

I get to buy him uniform. I get to pack him snacks for playtime and fill a bottle of fresh water for him. I get to buy him a nice warm winter coat, new footwear, and a nice new bag.

But I’ll never walk my child to school.

I’ll never get to wave to him as he joins his line for the first time. I’ll never get to say good morning to his friends, kiss him goodbye at the gate, exchange pleasantries with other parents or pop into the office with his forgotten pencil case.

I wish I could walk my child to school.

It’s not the biggest thing to want. It’s not expensive or overly time consuming or rare to see. I just want to hold his hand or walk beside him in the morning and at 3 o’clock like other parents get to do with their children.

I never had it at the nursery stage but somehow that didn’t seem quite as bad. He’ll grow up never seeing my face just before he enters school to be away from me for six hours. Whatever his day was like I won’t ever be the smile that greets him or the hand that takes his as he leaves school behind for another day.

He’s still young and he needs me. I should be walking him to school.

There’s a wonderful school so close to us. Not too big, not too small, with such a friendly, welcoming ethos. I should have been buying burgundy jumpers to match his sister and seeing him laugh with friends in the school playground minutes from my house. When I sit in the garden listening to the children in my daughter’s school play outside I close my eyes and dream that my son is there too, kicking a ball about, chatting to friends, sharing life.

Instead I say my goodbyes at the front gate handing my son over to strangers who change every academic year. I strap him in a car seat, kiss his tender little cheek and tell him I love him. He never waves back. He rarely even looks at me.

I long to walk him to school.

We would splash in puddles. We would laugh when the wind blows our umbrellas inside out. I would listen intently as he told me about his day, his lessons, and who was star of the week. He would nag me to leave him at the gate instead of the line as he got older and we would get excited in winter walking in snow and making footprints. I know this because I get to do all of that, and more, with his sister.

Walking your child to school is so much more than just a menial daily chore. It’s bonding with your child, giving them priceless security and routine, its allowing your child uninterrupted special time to de stress and transition from school to home. It’s being familiar with their school, knowing the office staff by name,smiling at their teacher and having a chance to sort things out quickly because you are right there where you should be.

Is it wrong that I want that for my son too?

To know he has arrived safely, to walk home myself feeling at peace, to know where he is and that he is safe, to feel comfortable with the people who are looking after him and teaching him.

I’ll never walk my child to school and that simple, everyday loss is so hard to deal with sometimes.

My son has complex needs so has to go by transport to school many miles from home. I correspond with the school via short sentences in a diary. I don’t know what door my child enters the school or exits or if he even lines up outside. I don’t get to see his playground, his friends, or the staff. I have to assume he has arrived safely and he is well even when the weather is awful or I hear of accidents on the route. I can’t pop in with a forgotten snack or a form and even when I call them my voice or name isn’t familiar.

I wish it was different but it’s not.

Please don’t take it for granted when you walk your child to school. Some parents, like me, will never know that simple joy.

Today is just another morning that I never walked my child to school.

Adding Epilepsy and how it has changed things for my beautifully complex child

It’s quite a bizarre feeling when a medical professional finally tells you what your gut already knows. I mean if you already know it why does it still send your stomach into knots, make your head feel like it will explode and fill your eyes with tears? Maybe knowing something inwardly but hearing it outwardly isnt quite the same.

Whatever it is, the day I finally heard the medics say my son has epilepsy was just like that.

It shouldn’t have been a shock, but hearing it still made me numb.

I should have been prepared, but hearing the words still felt unreal.

I had already googled it so many times so why did I suddenly google all over again when I heard it ‘officially’, desperately believing that the information I read would somehow be different?

Knowing something inwardly doesn’t ever prepare you for hearing someone else say it after all.

So my son has epilepsy.

It’s not like this is his first ever diagnosis. He collects diagnosis like some people collect coins or stamps. He’s a beautifully complex child who already has a list of conditions that would scare even the monsters under your bed! Severe autism, severe learning difficulties, neurofibromatosis type 1, microphthalmia, Persistent Hyperplastic Primary Vitreous, optic glioma, global developmental delay and now epilepsy. It’s a mouthful. We tend to shorten it to ‘isaac’ and we encourage everyone else to do the same.

So here he is.

Isaac. My beautifully complex son who now has epilepsy.

Despite so much against him Isaac had been doing well, though I guess that always depends on what you mean by ‘well’. He was attending school, he was eating and drinking and, now and again, sleeping. He was happy, energetic and full of life…until March this year.

I didn’t see it coming. Yes he has had minor seizures, or episodes before. He has been having absence seizures for years and had EEG’s several times. He has, like all children, caught various bugs and minor illnesses but despite the fact he has no speech at all I could tell right away when he woke on the 4th March that something was seriously wrong. In fact I had to wake him that morning which I can’t remember ever having to do. He spend the day like this, only walking to have what I knew was some sort of seizure then sleeping again.

I sought medical advice. I was told it ‘probably won’t happen again’, except it did. Again and again in fact. Each time lasting longer, adding more adjectives to describe what was happening and scaring us all more.

Until finally in July this happened.

One minute Isaac was sitting eating breakfast, the next he collapsed unconscious onto the floor, his whole body tense and writhing and his arms and legs shaking uncontrollably. A three and a half minute tonic clonic seizure. A four hour sleep followed by a second three minute loss of consciousness, rigid body and shaking.

And so we added epilepsy to his complex needs. We added medication that week too.

Medication has been awful. If we thought the epilepsy was bad the medication was even worse! My son became a shell of his former self, lost deep in a world of lethargy, nausea, confusion and distress.

I was told ‘it will pass’. It didn’t.

So we stopped that medicine and started another. This time he is more alert but the lethargy, agitation and mouth ulcers have caused him so much distress. It’s utterly heartbreaking.

He’s not at school much.

He’s not doing much.

He’s not eating much.

He’s not really interested in much.

Life is one huge effort for him right now.

Adding epilepsy to my beautifully complex child has not been easy; thats an understatement.

And the hardest part of all of this is he can’t understand what’s happening at all and I can’t explain.

I have never felt so helpless as I do right now.

Raising Two Autistic Children and How It Has Affected My Weight

I have never been super model material and that hasn’t ever bothered me. Prior to having children I was a size 12 and my weight wasn’t anything I ever thought about.

I am not prepared to say what size clothes I wear now because I know I am over weight and now I think about it a lot!

At nine months pregnant with twins I weighted much less than I do now, ten years later. The years have not been kind to me that way sadly.

As a new mother my weight was the last thing on my mind. It went even lower on the list when I told the health visitor I had some concerns about my son’s development. At 20 months I took him to see a paediatrician.

That day the paediatrician first mentioned autism and I went home and ate chocolate…because we all know that HAS to make everything better don’t we?

I had secretly hoped my sons struggles with speech, his delay in reaching milestones, his need for routine, his lack of social skills and his continuing rocking was a ‘phase’ he would grow out of. I was struggling with him outside of the house(and inside too where he would scream for hours on end) so I slowly but surely stopped going to anything with him. No toddler groups to be embarrassed at with my screaming child, no rhyme time at the library to watch other kids his age singing when mine could not say a word, and certainly no church when he would never settle in crèche.

The isolation started to affect my weight.

If you are not going out and meeting people what does it matter what you look like? I coped with the isolation by making poor food and drink choices.

Neither of my children were great sleepers. My daughter would only sleep if nursed from the breast and my son could stay awake all night at 18 months and still have more energy that a Duracell battery!

The lack of sleep started to affect my weight.

When you are tired your whole body is lethargic. You haven’t got the energy to cook and wash up so calling a delivery from a take away felt so much easier. It seemed like one less stress to think about in the chaos of life with young twins who consumed me all day and night. Sleep deprivation also meant that if I did manage a supermarket shop I would always forget essentials out of exhaustion. It took less energy to open a can of fizzy juice to drink than to remember how to even make a cup of tea. I was that tired!

Then as the children started nursery speech and language therapists, early years workers and educational phycologists became involved. The thought of people coming into our lives and our home brought so much stress and anxiety that I would cry into my cup of tea while munching on a chocolate biscuit.

Stress started to affect my weight.

The stress of finding a nursery place able to meet the needs of a non verbal child in nappies at three who wasn’t yet walking. The stress of putting the children in transport when neither of them could say if they were being treated well. The stress of feeling like I was always being judged because my children were not like others would make me want to reach for cake and fizzy juice while the children were at nursery or school.

Outside of nursery or school I had no other child care. My son was still screaming at 6 and beyond and the children’s insistence on rigid routines meant I could never ever be away from them. Going to the bathroom caused my daughter to have a panic attack and my son to scream! Everyday was a repeat of the previous one and outside of school we never left the house. I felt I was letting my children down.

Guilt started to affect my weight.

I felt I must be to blame for my children’s struggles since I was their main carer. I would read about autism being genetic and cry myself to sleep. I would read about early intervention and courses and wonder if I was doing something wrong since my child was 7, then 8, now 9 and still not talking at all. I felt guilty asking the NHS for nappies for my child as if I was somehow stealing from them. I felt guilt I was unable to work and pay taxes. I felt guilt at not noticing the autism in my daughter until she too was diagnosed a week before her 5th birthday!

I coped with that guilt with more take always, hot chocolate and crisps.

Food became my comfort when my world was falling apart.

I lost my self esteem, self worth and pride.

It’s taken me years to accept my children’s autism. I have walked through the isolation, the lack of sleep, the stress and the guilt and though things are not without difficulties, I am in a much better place.

Then one day I realised: if I could accept my children’s autism then it was time to wake up and accept how overweight I really was and do something about it.

Now I am slowly trying to lose weight. It isn’t easy though as my children are just as autistic as they always have been. They still only accept me doing certain things, rely on rigid routines, require a very high level of personal care and still struggle with sleeping a lot. I still don’t have child care and we have an abundance of appointments.

But I am making better choices. I am exercising when I can and not ordering take always like I used to. Change isn’t something my children like and it was so easy to settle into our unhealthy rut and stay there.

But for the sake of my autistic children and for my own health I am now slowly taking control of my weight.

I don’t blame my children for my weight issue nor do I blame autism. It was MY reaction and MY choices combined with the social isolation, lack of sleep, stress and guilt that having autistic children brought that pushed me to seeking support in all the wrong places.

I know it’s not going to be easy but one thing having autistic children has taught me is that even when progress is slow it is so worthwhile.