We’ve all heard what the media says about the diets, the vaccines, and the swarm of attention that autism has gained. And it’s not surprising, considering that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (commonly known as ASD).
As a SmartMom, you will encounter friends, co-workers, or fellow volunteers who are parenting a child with autism. Or, perhaps you yourself are parenting a child with autism.
Either way, here’s what’s important to know about ASD (and how to talk to friends who are parenting a child with autism).
When you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.
There is no perfectly accurate profile of a child with ASD because they are all so different. Autism entails diagnostic criteria of impaired social interaction, disturbed communication, and stereotypical behavior, interests, and activities. However, autism is a spectrum disorder, and these criteria can greatly differ from child to child.
For this reason, it’s important not to pretend that you understand a child simply by knowing their diagnosis.
Avoid saying: “Yeah, I know all autistic kids love Thomas the Train.”
Instead say: “How can I help? How are you doing?”
It’s especially critical that you listen to those parenting a child with autism, because they know the most about their child. Therefore, avoid comparing their child to other children with (or without) ASD. Your friend is likely already highly aware of the typical developmental norms in which their child doesn’t fall, and they don’t really need your reminders. Letting your friend know that you are there to listen helps her feel less isolated in her parenting.
You may be asking, “I know what not to say, but what can I say?” Many parents of children with autism are overwhelmed. Can you offer a couple of hours to help them with laundry or meals? Letting your friend know that you desire to help and come alongside her in this journey may be the greatest gift you can offer (and then actually follow through).
If you’re a researcher, be an informed one.
Believe me, your friend is doing everything she can to stay informed and to take care of her child in the best way. Many people will give her suggestions, advice, and tips–most of which will be taken from non- reliable or non-credible sources. If you’re interested in autism, it’s not wrong to do research, but be selective about what you choose to believe. Remember that the Internet is an open forum, and autism is a highly publicized topic.
If you have the research bug, I’ve found Google Scholar to be a great place to easily find credible research articles. I choose to read articles that are peer-reviewed and published within the past 10 years. Now, just because you’ve done your research, it doesn’t mean that you need to prepare a presentation for those parenting a child with autism. Likely, your friend works with a team of therapists and doctors who are informed with the latest research. You have the unique opportunity to be a supportive friend; don’t trade that awesome role for being the worried Internet researcher.
Avoid saying: “I read on a blog that you should…”
Instead say: Nothing–unless your friend has huge respect for your Google Scholar researching skills.
When you’re referring to a child with autism, use people-first language.
You may not notice the subtle difference, but the parents of children with autism likely will. When you use people-first language, the diagnosed condition doesn’t describe their child. Instead, ASD is something about their child, but not the identifying component.
Even though your intentions may be admirable, it’s important to know how what you say can be perceived. Here’s an example:
Avoid saying: “My friend has an autistic child.”
Instead say: “My friend has a child with autism.”
It’s important to keep this in mind with any child that you talk about. Ultimately, a diagnosis doesn’t define us, but it does affect us. Most parents don’t appreciate when their child is defined by autism, but also don’t appreciate when their child’s differences are ignored.
As a friend, valuing their child may mean recognizing their differences and caring for them despite these differences. Be open to hearing her experiences, and be willing to offer help and continual friendship.
For more information about ASD visit:
Autism Speaks for a great overview and introduction to ASD, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for information about
geared towards the speech and language component of ASD or National Autism Center for those interested in the research behind ASD treatments.
Parents also have a role in a child’s development, read this post to see what you can do.