What To Say To An Autism Parent
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.
In the four years since Norrin’s autism diagnosis, I’ve heard lots of things. Some things have made me cringe, others have made me smile. A while back I wrote a post of things you shouldn’t say to an autism parent. The post sparked a lot of dialogue. Some parents totally got it. Others wondered what’s the right thing to say. Autism parents know that the “I’m sorry” response isn’t really appropriate but neither is “That’s so cool!”
The reality is, many people just don’t know what to say. So the next time you meet someone and they reveal their child has autism – here are some suggestions:
Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know much about autism. I didn’t know what autism was until I was having Norrin evaluated. It’s okay to ask questions. Questions are always welcome. And many autism parents are eager to share information and raise awareness. You can say something like, “I have a general idea of what autism is, but why don’t you tell me about your child.”
Ask to see a picture. If it’s one thing all parents have in common is that they love to show off their kids. Usually if I start talking about Norrin and autism, I pull out a picture. And like all moms, I love to hear how beautiful my son is and how much he looks like me. By asking to see a picture you can open up the conversation and ask questions. (So long as you don’t say, “He/She looks so normal…”)
Suggest a play date. Socialization is often hard for kids with autism. This is one of the hardest things for many special needs parents – trying to schedule play dates. Play dates with “typical” kids are great because it provides for peer modeling. So if your kids are around the same age and it’s possible, try to schedule an outing to the playground or a kids museum. And prior to meeting, ask them for book suggestions on talking to kids about autism.
Offer help/support. I know when people say “I’m sorry” it comes from a good place, they are concerned, they want to show they care. However, special needs parents do not want to be pitied. What they want and need is support. So be a friend to them. Ask them, “what can I do to help you?” or “how can I help?”
Let them know they are a great parent. Most parents doubt themselves at some point and special needs parents doubt themselves often. Once I was talking to someone about Norrin and she said, “I can tell you’re a great mom. Norrin will be okay because he has you for a mother.”
If you’re an autism parent – what words do you appreciate when you tell someone your child has autism?