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?