What do you think of when you hear autism? Do you think of the movie Rain Man and Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant performance? Do you think of fits and rocking and no eye contact? Maybe you think, “Oh, I’m sorry,” or maybe you think, “Will they grow out of it?” or “I don’t want my kids catching that child’s rude behavior.”
While all of those are valid responses from someone on the outside of Autism looking in (and I have had some of these said to me), it doesn’t make them any less wrong. Autism is not a disease that you catch. It’s not a disease period. The way I explained it to my Asperger’s son is this: Autism is a way of seeing the world differently that sometimes requires a map and/or a translator to help you navigate.
Aspies, like my son, often have a harder time in social circumstances than those further down the Autism spectrum because Aspies know that they are supposed to have friends and carry on conversations. They generally want to fit in with their peer group, but they don’t really know how to do that. So, my son and I practice. We talk about how his behavior can lead to different reactions from people. We talk about the reasons and reactions of other people. We talk about the best way to handle a situation or what could have been done differently for a better outcome. We write apology letters when we hurt someone’s feelings (mostly to help us understand that what we said or did was hurtful in some way). We use movies and music and comic books as ways of exploring the world. He asks questions like, “What is this song about?” and “Why did those people in that [book, movie, TV show] do that? Was it because they [were scared, didn’t understand, wanted something, were happy]?
Are you starting to see a pattern here? My son and I talk about his world view in order to help him understand it. The more he understands it, the easier it will be for him to advocate for himself as he gets older. Talking about autism takes away the fear associated with the word. Let’s face it. When most people hear the word autism, they are automatically afraid that the child or adult in question will have a fit.
How To Help
So, how can you be more sympathetic to someone with autism or the autism parent? Don’t judge, and learn as much as you can about autism. If you are able, and comfortable with it, offer to watch the child (if the child is comfortable with you) for an hour or two so mom and/or dad can have time alone. Offer to do the grocery shopping or run another errand or cook dinner. Most importantly, be accepting.
In order to help start you on your journey through the autism rabbit hole, I have prepared a list you. Please check out the website at the end for more information or visit the website of your local Autism Society.
10 Things My Autistic Child Wished You Knew:
1. I’m sorry I have fits, but I’m not a spoiled brat. I’m just so much younger on the inside than I am on the outside.
2. I’m easily overwhelmed because I see and hear everything. I hear the lights hum and the clock tick. Everything is so loud it makes my head hurt, and my eyes hurt from all the bright lights.
3. I’m not stupid; I’m actually very smart. I just don’t learn the way you want me to. Please learn about Autism so you know how to help me better understand what you are trying to teach.
4. Please don’t be mad at my mama if we don’t come over for holidays or birthdays. She really wants to go, but I don’t always do well at another person’s house. It can be too overwhelming for me, and she knows that. She doesn’t go because she loves me, NOT because she doesn’t like you.
5. Please have patience with me. I try really hard to make good decisions, but I can be very impulsive at times.
6. Yes, I have Autism, but that doesn’t mean I’m less of a person because of it. If anything, I’m actually more of a person in spite of it.
7. My house might be messy sometimes. It’s because my mama spends all her time trying to find new ways to help me.
8. Just because I don’t or won’t talk to you doesn’t mean I don’t understand what you are saying. My feelings can be hurt just like yours.
9. I wish my mama knew how much I love her. I have a really hard time with emotions, and I don’t always like to be touched. However, I love her more than anything in the world, even more than my Lego’s.
10. I know I can be frustrating, but don’t tell me I won’t amount to anything because I have Autism. If you love and support me, I WILL do great things in my life in spite of my challenges.
This list was borrowed and adapted from www.lostandtired.com