If there is one thing every parent with an autistic child will agree, it is that you become thick-skinned rapidly. In the early days people’s comments used to upset, enrage and at times concern me. However a couple of years down the line and I am becoming a lot better equipped mentally with comments from others.
I have no issue at all with people asking me questions about autism and Louise’s condition. In fact at times I welcome it, as a way to help alleviate any ignorance around the subject and raise awareness. Nonetheless, some comments can feel so broadly stereotyped and medieval that they do grate on me and leave a heavy feeling in my heart due to the lack of understanding and ignorance around autism. Therefore, in this post, I hope to expel common stereotypes and myths surrounding autism through the most common comments made.
EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE GETTING AUTISM THESE DAYS
Thankfully there is much more awareness and education around autism, many children are finally getting the help and diagnosis they need. This means parents are able to talk about their children’s additional needs with more understanding. In the 90s when I was at school, autism was something we knew little about. Those class mates, who may have struggled or seemed a little different to us, may in fact have been autistic but were never diagnosed. So yes autism is spoke about a lot more now but it doesn’t mean it was never there when we were at school or that it is something you can catch or develop.
OH LIKE THE RAIN MAN FILM?
For anybody unfamiliar with this 1988 film, Rain Man is a film about 2 brothers one of which is autistic. The film does portray autism sensitively and well considering the lack of knowledge 30 years ago. However it does of course create a stereotype for those who have seen it, that all autistic people must be like Raymond, with an outstanding mathematical knowledge and memory. I hear this comment mostly from older generations.
HE/SHE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THEM
Sadly I have had this comment many times. Autism is more commonly an invisible disability. Therefore because my son fits into society’s expectation of “normal”, at first perception, his autism is often dismissed as something he will “grow out of.”
AUTISTIC CHILDREN CAN’T SHOW THEIR EMOTIONS/AFFECTION
I find this a common misconception. Many autistic children can show their emotions. My son displays happiness, sadness, anger and a caring nature. However what he does find difficult is reacting to other people’s emotions. For example when I tread on a piece of Lego and hurt my foot he laughs. Likewise if his siblings cry, he laughs. I have actually spoke to him about laughing when someone is sad or in pain and he said “yes but faces are funny.” In a nutshell, people with autism don’t lack emotions but they can have difficulty identifying them in others.
AUTSTIC CHILDREN ARE NAUGHTY
I have heard some horrendous comments regarding Louise’s behaviour from the general public. Why people feel the need to comment on someone else’s child’s behaviour is beyond me. I do not use Louise’s autism as an excuse for bad behaviour. If he is deliberately hurting somebody or pushing in front of a child at the slide, I will always discipline him. Nonetheless, if for example, we are in a doctor’s surgery and he is “stimming” or having a meltdown due to a sensory overload I will not tell him he is “naughty.” There are certain situations which may make autistic children feel anxious and unsettled. Each autistic child is different, where as one child may enjoy a trip to the supermarket, another may find it stressful and have a meltdown.
A meltdown, for those unfamiliar with this term, is not the same as a tantrum. The meltdown happens when someone with autism becomes completely overwhelmed with a situation. Meltdowns can be verbal and physical, with screaming, shouting, kicking, biting etc. When a meltdown occurs in a public space it is distressing for the child and parent. I have had many sly comments about Louie’s behaviour during these times, if out in public, which causes Louie to become even more upset and anxious.
Before starting this post I conducted some research with other parents asking what they felt were hurtful comments about their child’s autism. Some of the responses were so sad and made me realise what a long way to go we have in rasing autism awareness. However I do believe progress has been made and although some comments are infuriating it is important to remember that some people genuinely want to learn about autism and so use this as an opportunity to educate (after a couple of very deep breaths!) I would love to hear your thoughts on my post and as always they are very welcome. Thank you for reading.