5 Things This Autism Parent Wants You To Know


1. When we tell you that our child has autism, don’t say you’re sorry. We know you mean well, but why should you be sorry? We’re not. Autism parenting can be as tough as hell, but we adore our kids, and like any parent, we do everything we can for them.

2. Autism is a neuro-processing disability. It is not an intellectual disability, although the symptoms may or may not include cognitive impairments. Don’t assume that a child with autism struggles intellectually, but at the same time, don’t assume that everyone with autism is like Rain Man.

3. If my child is in the room, any questions you have about him should be addressed to him, not to me. Don’t ask me how old he is or what grade he is in at school. Ask him. Afford him the same respect you would give to any child. He may not be able to answer all of your questions, but he has to have the opportunity to try. If he needs prompting, I will help him. But always operate under the assumption that he can, not that he can’t.

4. I don’t expect society to bend over backwards for my child. He is a child with autism living in a neurotypical world, and we are doing our best to give him the skills he will need in order to survive. He is always going to be different, though. He will never fit any mould of what people may think someone “should” be like. What I ask is that you embrace and accept those differences.

5. It is a very sad fact that the autism community is fragmented by different beliefs, and sometimes those fragments attack each other. Moms who choose to vaccinate their kids are accused of being bad parents. People actively campaign against autism organizations that do not promote a certain agenda. Insulting terms like “sheeple” are flung around. All of this really bothers me, because we should have a common goal – that goal being a better life for our kids. That should be what we are aiming for, over and above everything else.


Never forget the siblings

As I work towards my Run for Autism, my inspiration is George.  He’s the only member of my family – either immediate or extended – who has been touched by autism.  I could go on all day about his challenges, his strengths, and the fact that what most “typical” parents see as minor developmental milestones are, to me, gigantic accomplishments that make me want to jump for joy.  I am in the process of starting to work with a holistic lifestyle coach named Brandon: the first time I spoke to him he told me that while parenting in general is equivalent to a full-time job, parenting a child with autism is equivalent to an additional full-time job.  It makes sense.  I have to maintain two completely separate styles of parenting for my two children, because what works for one definitely would not be appropriate for the other.

And in this sense my Run for Autism is inspired not only by my autistic son George, but also by my neurotypical child James.  James, in addition to just being James, a unique individual in his own right, is also the brother of an autistic child.  Although he is chronologically the younger of the two, in most senses he is actually older.  He has the verbal skills, the social skills, the adaptive skills that his brother does not have.  There are times when he is called upon to understand the kinds of things that kids his age shouldn’t have to worry about.  He has a very strong sense of what is and is not fair, and when George’s autism leads to us reacting in a way that James perceives to be unfair, it can be very hard for his four-year-old mind to process.  Being the sibling of an autistic child cannot be easy.  And so when we do something to improve the lives of autistic children, we are also by extension doing something to improve the lives of their siblings.

We are very fortunate that James is the kind of child that he is.  He is a highly verbal, very social child.  He has opinions and he’s not afraid to express them.  Although there is definite sibling rivalry, James adores his big brother.  If he is given a cookie, he requests one for George.  If we do something simple like take George’s hat off his head in a playful moment, James will get upset and demand that we return the hat to its rightful owner.  When George is having a meltdown, James feels sad and says things about how he will take care of George.  He has never used the word “autism” in relation to George, but he is aware of George’s disability. Based on his character, both Gerard and I believe that James will grow up to be friend and advocate to his brother.

I frequently worry about whether I am doing right by James.  So much of James’ life is shaped by George’s autism.  A simple example is Mr. Potato Head.  George loves Mr. Potato Head.  He has about twenty of them, and he has to know where they all are at all times.  If anyone touches his Mr. Potato Heads he gets very upset.  Any Mr. Potato Head that enters the house is automatically deemed to be George’s property.  There have been times when James has tried to play with a Potato Head, and he’s been prevented from doing so, either by George himself or by parents who are too frazzled to deal with a meltdown.  Over time, James has been conditioned to not play with Mr. Potato Head.  I have no idea whether he’d like it or not, and I feel oddly sad that we’ll never find out.  Another one like that is Lego.  We tried getting James Lego that is different in appearance from what George likes, but we have had limited success.  James will still make the occasional attempt to play with Lego, and if I happen to be around, I play with him and fend off George’s intrusions.

I sometimes wonder whether James’ passion for trains and cars is genuine, or if it’s just something he has gravitated to because George isn’t really interested in them.  When these thoughts start troubling me too deeply, I console myself with the knowledge that James truly does love his cars and trains and gets a lot of joy from them.

What I really want to convey is this: autism does not only affect the individual diagnosed with it.  It touches every member of the family.  The autistic child is not the only one who needs special care and attention.  We must never forget the siblings.